HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Twice in a row, Kyle Washington muscled his way into the crowd, got an offensive rebound and scored a basket, sparking the run that No. 20 Cincinnati needed to finally shake an overmatched opponent.
Washington’s put-backs started a closing 21-8 spurt that swept the Bearcats to an 81-62 victory over Cleveland State on Thursday night, one that was close until the final surge.
The Bearcats (11-2) struggled to extend their home-court winning streak to 33 games, the longest in the nation. Washington’s consecutive baskets pushed it to 66-56 — only Cincinnati’s second double-digit lead of the game.
“They were just hitting shots and reading our defense well,” Washington said. “We had to weather the storm and come together. I thought it was a good test for us. They were sticking with us, sticking with us, and we just had to break through.”
Gary Clark had 18 points , and Jarron Cumberland added 16 points for Cincinnati, which is playing this season at BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University while its on-campus arena is renovated. The Bearcats went 18-0 at Fifth Third Arena last season.
Tyree Appleby had 16 points for the Vikings (3-8) , who were playing their second road game in three days.
“We are learning how to compete as a team,” coach Dennis Felton said. “I really enjoyed a lot of things about our approach tonight. We had a great chance to win this game until a little stretch where it got away from us.”
The Vikings stayed close by hitting 3s. There were three ties and eight lead changes in the first half, with the Vikings shooting 68 percent from the field, including 7 of 12 from beyond the arc as the Bearcats left shooters open on the perimeter.
“Guys are kind of wide open and playing H-O-R-S-E out there,” Clark said.
Cincinnati didn’t lead by double digits until midway through the second half.
“It’s no fun when you’re going through it, but you’re much better off playing against a team that plays really well against you,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “They made some really, really hard shots in the first half. They had a great game plan.”
Cleveland State: The Vikings fell to 6-44 all-time against ranked teams. Their last such win was 71-58 at No. 7 Vanderbilt on Nov. 13, 2011. Cincinnati was their first ranked opponent this season. They play at No. 2 Michigan State on Dec. 29.
Cincinnati: Coaches weren’t happy with 15 turnovers against overmatched Arkansas-Pine Bluff. They were sloppy early against the Vikings, but had only five turnovers in the second half and finished with 11.
WASHINGTON AT 1,000
Washington scored his 1,000th career point. He’s played for North Carolina State and Cincinnati.
The Vikings will return to BB&T Arena on Jan. 15 to face Northern Kentucky in a Horizon League game.
During a 77-49 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday night, Cumberland scored only four points, fell hard on his lower back with 49 seconds left in the first half, and didn’t return. He played 29 minutes on Thursday and went 5 of 14 from the field.
NEVER DONE IT
The Vikings fell to 0-12 all-time against Cincinnati.
Appleby slipped while going for a layup early in the game, landed hard on his back, and stayed on the court for several minutes before getting up and jogging to the bench. The point guard was out for more than 6 minutes before returning. He played 22 minutes.
The Vikings host Toledo on Saturday, their third game in five days.
The Bearcats are off until Dec. 31, when they host Memphis in their American Athletic Conference opener.