CINCINNATI (AP) All season long, Cincinnati frittered games away at the end. Despite missing shot after shot, the Bearcats managed to hang on for once.
Point guard Troy Caupain scored 14 points despite missing all of his shots from beyond the arc, and Cincinnati overcame poor shooting to beat No. 24 SMU 61-54 on Sunday, bolstering the Bearcats’ NCAA Tournament chances while ending the Mustangs’ season.
”We’ve been preaching about finishing, about our whole regular season coming down to the last 3 minutes and not being able to finish games or keep our foot on the pedal,” Caupain said. ”We knew we had to or it was all going to go down the drain.”
The Bearcats (22-9, 12-6 American Athletic) shot 29.5 percent from the field overall, including 1 of 19 from beyond the arc. They made a difference at the free throw line, going 24 of 30. Caupain made only 4 of 19 shots, missing all six from beyond the arc.
”People say: `What’s Cincinnati basketball?”’ coach Mick Cronin said. ”Well, around here for a long time – before I started – we play really hard, play with a lot of pride, and we do things that are really tough to do. That’s why you have continued success.
”And you’ve got to be able to win when you don’t make shots.”
It was a final disappointment for SMU (25-5, 13-5), which is banned from postseason play because of NCAA rules violations. Players embraced on the court after the final buzzer.
SMU chose not to appeal the postseason ban or the nine-game suspension for coach Larry Brown. The NCAA found that a former basketball assistant had completed online course work to make a student eligible for admission to the school. Current players were disappointed that the school chose not to challenge the penalty.
”We lost to a really good team in a great environment,” Brown said. ”We had a heck of a year.”
Ben Moore had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Mustangs. Senior point guard Nic Moore had 14 points on 6-of-17 shooting.
The Bearcats were coming off a 69-56 loss at Houston and figured they needed some wins to make the NCAA Tournament. Their defense got this one, holding the Mustangs to a season low in points. SMU beat Cincinnati 59-57 in Dallas on Jan. 7, which was previously the Mustangs’ lowest point total of the season.
Neither team could make an open shot at the outset. SMU pulled ahead 11-6 after 8 minutes despite shooting only 4 of 12 from the field. The Bearcats were worse, going 3 of 17 and missing all seven of their shots from beyond the arc.
Cincinnati was only 5 of 23 from the field when Caupain led its first run. He had a pull-up jumper and two free throws during an 8-0 spurt that put the Bearcats ahead to stay 21-16. Cincinnati led 34-27 at the half, with the teams going a combined 3 of 20 from beyond the arc.
Neither team could put together a significant run at the start of the second half. Jacob Evans’ driving basket gave the Bearcats the first double-digit lead of the game at 46-36.
Nic Moore tried to get the Mustangs going, making a driving layup that started a final run. Shake Milton’s reverse layup cut Cincinnati’s lead to 55-52 with 1:54 to go.
The Mustangs had a turnover and missed their next two shots, allowing Cincinnati to hold on. SMU had 17 turnovers overall, one shy of its season high.
SMU forward Markus Kennedy got his fifth foul with 8:46 to go. Kennedy had nine points and four rebounds.
Southern Methodist: The Mustangs won 15 of their last 20 road games, going 7-4 this season.
Cincinnati: Seniors Farad Cobb, Coreontae DeBerry, Octavius Ellis and Shaq Thomas were honored before the game.
Southern Methodist: Season is over.
Cincinnati: Plays Friday in the AAC Tournament.
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