HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Cincinnati has its best offensive team under Mick Cronin, but the Bearcats coach won’t accept a lackluster defensive effort like the one he got in the first half against East Carolina.
“We had an attitude adjustment at halftime,” Cronin said.
Jacob Evans III and Kyle Washington each scored 17 points, and Gary Clark had 14 points and 14 rebounds, lifting the No. 12 Bearcats to an 86-60 victory over East Carolina on Saturday.
Clark’s double-double was the 25th of his career, and Jarron Cumberland added 14 points for the Bearcats (17-2, 6-0 American Athletic Conference), who have won 10 straight.
East Carolina shot 55.2 percent in the first half and was 3 of 7 from 3-point range. The Bearcats, who rank third in the nation in field goal percentage defense, tightened things up after halftime.
The Pirates shot 30 percent in the second half and went 1 for 9 from 3-point range.
“Early in the game, our defense was atrocious,” Cronin said. “We had breakdowns that are not characteristic of us. We got tougher as the game went on. We haven’t gotten off to good starts of late.”
Shawn Williams scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half for East Carolina. He was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor and 3-for-3 from 3-point range in the first half, but cooled off after halftime. Isaac Fleming also scored 15 for the Pirates.
The Bearcats scored 19 points off 15 Pirates turnovers. Cincinnati recorded nine steals.
East Carolina (8-11, 2-6) struggled against Cincinnati’s full-court pressure, particularly in the first half, when the Bearcats forced two 10-second violations.
“We tried to take them out of their things,” Evans said. “We let their shooters get some easy ones. We just came out in the second half and played harder, just putting in more effort.”
Cincinnati had one turnover and six assists in the first half and led 46-38 at halftime. The lone turnover was the result of an offensive foul.
Bearcats point guard Cane Broome, a transfer from Sacred Heart, totaled seven points and six assists, including a lob to Trevon Scott for a dunk to highlight a first-half run, and didn’t commit a turnover.
The Bearcats had 15 assists and seven turnovers overall.
“The more Cane can play without turning the ball over, the more you’ll see him play and be productive,” Cronin said. “That and defense has been his biggest adjustment.”
Williams’ layup got the Pirates within five with 15 minutes remaining in the game. But he was kept quiet for much of the second half.
“I’m sure there were a couple of conversations about him at halftime and they were really dialed in,” East Carolina coach Michael Perry said. “We anticipated that and were hoping some other guys would be able to step and take the challenge offensively but we weren’t able to sustain it.”
Evans’ drive and layup capped an 8-0 run that put the Bearcats ahead 77-57 with five minutes left.
“Teams come out with nothing to lose against us,” said Clark. “They give us their best shot. We just need to lock in at home from the start.”
NOT SO FAST
East Carolina posted season highs for field goals and 3-point field goals made in a 90-52 win over South Florida on Wednesday, but the Pirates could not get going offensively against the Bearcats, who rank second nationally in scoring defense. The Pirates were the first American Athletic Conference opponent to score more than 56 points against Cincinnati.
Cincinnati has won ten straight and 45 of its past 51 regular-season games. The Bearcats won 16 of their first 18 for the second consecutive season and the third time in five years.
The Bearcats lead the all-time series with ECU 12-1, including four straight wins and a 7-0 mark at home.
East Carolina: The Pirates have gone 6-7 since interim coach Michael Perry took over for Jeff Lebo, who resigned in November following a 2-4 start.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won 36 straight home games, the longest active streak in the nation. They are 10-0 this season at BB&T Arena on the campus of Northern Kentucky University after going 18-0 last season at Fifth Third Arena, which is undergoing an $87 million renovation.
The Pirates play at SMU on Jan. 28.
The Bearcats host Temple on Wednesday. They defeated the Owls 55-53 on Jan. 4 in Philadelphia.