Keith Jenkins plays a round of CAT with Bearcats basketball head coach Wes Miller
Keith Jenkins plays a round of CAT with the Bearcats’ head coach Wes Miller and asks questions about the season ahead.
Phil Didion, Kareem Elgazzar and Sam Greene, Cincinnati Enquirer
FORT WORTH, Texas – Houston was the better team, again.
The eighth-seeded University of Cincinnati men’s basketball team owned a 10-point lead early in the second half but couldn’t hold on, falling to the top-seeded Cougars 69-56 Friday in the second round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Cincinnati coach Wes Miller said. “I thought they fought like absolute crazy tonight and yesterday, given the way that we finished the year in the win-loss column. I think you have to recognize that.
“It’s expected – when you put this uniform on – to fight your tail off, play with great effort, play with great togetherness. I think that’s part of the standard with having this C-Paw right here. But that doesn’t mean you don’t recognize that it’s not always easy for young people to do that.”
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John Newman III and Jeremiah Davenport each scored 13 points and Mika Adams-Woods added 10 to lead the Bearcats (18-15), who suffered their ninth loss in their last 12 games.
Friday also marked Cincinnati’s sixth straight defeat to their future Big 12 Conference foes dating back to the 2019-20 season.
“This group has been admirable throughout the last four weeks – through a tough stretch – of just keep trying to come back and figure it out,” Miller said. “I thought there were times tonight where we played some of our best basketball. I hate that we came up short. Give Houston some credit.”
Cincinnati shot 29% (17-for-59) from the field against Houston’s 54% (64% in the second half). The Cougars outscored UC 28-14 in the paint.
But Friday started well for the Bearcats, who advanced to the second day of the AAC Tournament following a 74-63 win over East Carolina in the opening round.
Davenport knocked down his first two shots – 3-pointers – and Cincinnati jumped out to an early 8-2 lead.
Houston (27-5) started 1-for-6 from the field, including 0-for-4 from deep.
“Cincinnati played with a lot of confidence in the first half,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Whereas we played like this is our first game of the tournament. Second half, I thought we looked more like us.”
Newman extended Cincinnati’s lead to 13-4 on a 3-pointer at the 14:22 mark.
Miller elected to give both David DeJulius and Davenport a breather at the same time, and with UC’s most potent offensive options on the bench, the Cougars cut it to 15-10 with less than 12 minutes to play in the opening period.
After back-to-back turnovers by Houston, UC pushed its lead to 20-12 on a pair of free throws by Mike Saunders Jr.
But free throws were all Cincinnati could muster for about a six-minute stretch.
Newman put an end to the drought with a jumper that made it 23-16 with eight minutes left before halftime.
Then Houston woke up.
Fueled by a Fabian White Jr. 3-pointer, the Cougars went on a 9-2 run to tie the game at 25-25 inside five minutes to go in the first half.
But Cincinnati scored the last five points of the half and carried a 32-27 lead into the locker room.
The Bearcats trailed at halftime in each of their previous five losses to Houston.
“Our offense in the first half was kind of BS,” Sampson said.
Sampson said the biggest adjustment he made at halftime was have his players switch up the offense. Sampson said instead of playing a “Democratic” offense, he wanted them to play through White.
Adams-Woods opened the second half with a 3-pointer and Davenport followed with a layup to give UC a 37-27 advantage.
Houston guard Taze Moore stopped the surge by hitting a 3-pointer. Newman III countered with a jumper, and then Cincinnati went cold.
The Bearcats went 5:43 of game clock without a single point. Meanwhile, the Cougars raced on with a 12-0 run to take a 42-39 lead with 12:25 remaining.
White scored 11 of his team-high 18 points in the second half.
“You’ve got to tip your cap to Fabian White,” Miller said of the 6-foot-8 fifth-year senior. “We had a ballot to vote for player of the year in the league. That’s who I would’ve voted for, he just wasn’t on the ballot.
“… He’s a kid that other young people can learn from, because I don’t think Fabian White two-three years ago looks like Fabian White today. He’s improved every year, he’s added to his game and he’s become a really difficult mismatch because he takes it out and shoots it, he drives it so well from the perimeter, he’s an elite offensive rebounder and he’s a problem in the post.”
Miller said he elected not to double-team White, who also had eight rebounds, because Houston has been “elite attacking out of double teams.”
With only one timeout left in his pocket, Miller couldn’t stop the bleeding.
Adams-Woods knocked down a pair of free throws to end the drought and make 42-41 game with 12:25 to play.
That was as close as the Bearcats would come.
White and Houston took over in the paint and the Cougars owned a 60-49 lead inside the 5:00 mark.
Visibly upset with the physical play and lack of foul calls, Miller earned his second technical foul as UC head coach with 3:11 left.
Houston outscored Cincinnati 42-24 in the second half and 31-17 over the final 15 minutes.