Cincinnati hands Mississippi State first loss

By Jeff Wallner, The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 12, 2017 at 11:29 PM
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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. -- Coming off two straight losses and with a trip to UCLA looming this weekend, the Cincinnati Bearcats desperately needed a win.

"In college basketball, every win is important," said Bearcats guard Jacob Evans III. "But, it was important for us to get back on track, to build that confidence."

Evans scored 24 points and Kyle Washington added a season-high 16, helping No. 25 Cincinnati hand Mississippi State its first loss of the season, 65-50 on Tuesday night at BB&T Arena.

Cincinnati (8-2) avoided its first three-game losing streak since 2015. The Bearcats were coming off consecutive losses to crosstown rival Xavier and Florida.

Cincinnati has won 31 consecutive home games dating to a 77-70 loss to Temple on Dec. 29, 2015.

"Losing two in a row doesn't happen often here," Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin said. "I was concerned about the guys' confidence level. It's hard to shield them from the outside world. I'm sure the sky was falling in that world because we lost a couple games."

Mississippi State (8-1) was off to its best start since 2003, when it began the season 13-0, but cold shooting doomed the Bulldogs on Tuesday. They shot just 30.2 percent overall and 28.6 percent from 3-point range.

"If you hold a team to 50 points, you're going to win a lot of games," Cronin said. "This was a defensive victory."

Junior forward Aric Holman tied a career-high with 18 points and had 10 rebounds for his fourth career double-double, and Nick Weatherspoon and Quinndary Weatherspoon each scored 12 for the Bulldogs.

"Aric did a good job rebounding the basketball, which is something we need to do," said Bulldogs head coach Ben Howland. "We need to get others to step up and be able to score for us inside."

Cincinnati had the lead for all but 25 seconds on Tuesday.

Washington's jumper with 10:44 left in the first half gave the Bearcats their largest advantage to that point, 19-11. He had 14 points in the half, helping Cincinnati lead by as many as 12 points.

Washington also scored 16 in a win over Wyoming on Nov. 22.

"We weren't even thinking about personal stuff," said Washington. "We just had to get a win. We're not used to losing."

Mississippi State missed 10 consecutive shots during a seven-plus-minute scoring drought, and Cincinnati responded with an 8-0 run to build a 23-11 lead.

Final: #Bearcats 65, Mississippi State 50

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"We were really inept attacking their zone," Howland said. "We really didn't expect to see zone on the first possession of the game. They haven't played a lot of it coming in to today. It's my fault, we have to do a better job in our preparation."

The Bulldogs shot 35.7 percent in the half. Holman, who scored 12 in the half, had a dunk just before the halftime buzzer to cut the Bearcats' lead to 35-25.

Gary Clark's dunk off a lob from Cane Broome put Cincinnati ahead 43-31 early in the second half. Clark finished with nine points and 13 rebounds.

Mississippi State went cold again midway through the second half, missing 14 shots in a row as the Bearcats pulled away.

Cincinnati scored 22 points off 16 Bulldogs turnovers and had 11 blocked shots.

"We took away a multitude of things from them," Evans said.

Cronin said he'll give his banged-up Bearcats a day off before they begin preparing for Saturday's game against the Bruins, who last year behind Lonzo Ball knocked them out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

"We still remember losing to them in the tournament," Evans said. "But we know it's a different team. We just have to be ready."

NOTES: The Bearcats are playing their home games on the campus of Northern Kentucky University while Fifth Third Arena undergoes an $87 million renovation. ... Mississippi State has lost 18 consecutive games vs. ranked opponents. ... Cincinnati leads the all-time series, 3-2. Mississippi State hasn't beaten the Bearcats since the 1996 NCAA Tournament, a victory that sent the Bulldogs to the Final Four. ... Entering Tuesday, Mississippi State led the SEC and ranked 21st nationally in fewest points allowed at 61.9.

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