MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Opponents don’t score many points against No. 9 Cincinnati’s defense, with the Bearcats ranking second in the country allowing only 56.6 points a game.
Memphis didn’t even reach that average.
The Bearcats held Memphis to 31.1 percent shooting, kept the Tigers from getting in an offensive flow much of the game and the combination helped Cincinnati win its 12th straight Saturday with a 62-48 victory over Memphis.
“We got control early. I thought our defense was excellent most of the night,” Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said. “You hold a team to 31 percent, you outrebound them by eight (39-31), you’re going to win.”
Gary Clark had 18 points and nine rebounds and Jacob Evans added 14 points – including a pair of 3-pointers to break Cincinnati (19-2, 8-0 American Athletic Conference) out of a second-half shooting slump, when Memphis got within 36-32.
Evans’ 3-pointers were part of a 15-2 Cincinnati rally that put the game away as Memphis lost its second straight after a four-game winning streak.
“We had their lead down to four, and then we missed three straight free throws, and then the front end of a one-and-one,” said Memphis coach Tubby Smith, whose team ended the night 17 of 29 from the line. “I think a lot of it had to do with fatigue. Fighting to come back, you dig yourself such a deep hole, you lose your legs getting out of it.”
That “hole” in the first half reached 19 points before Cincinnati carried a 34-21 lead into the break. The Tigers were able to put a dent in the Bearcats’ advantage in the early stages of the second half. Cincinnati missed its first five shots, leading to a timeout from Cronin.
Eventually, the Bearcats would miss 10 of their first 11, allowing Memphis to creep as close as 36-32 before Cincinnati let loose with its 3-point barrage to pull away for good.
Jeremiah Martin led the Tigers (13-8, 4-4) with 20 points, while Kareem Brewton Jr. finished with 10 for Memphis.
“We just stuck with it defensively,” said Clark, who grabbed seven of his rebounds off the offensive glass. “We didn’t give up and tried to limit them to one possession. Just trying to execute and make each other look better offensively.”
Cincinnati: The Bearcats have held opponents under 60 points in their last eight games. During their winning streak, the Bearcats have defeated all but one opponent by double-digits, the average margin of victory right at 20 points. But Saturday’s double-digit win wasn’t as dominant as the previous game with Memphis, where the Bearcats won 82-48 on New Year’s Eve. “They’ve been playing good since we played them the first time,” Clark said. “They’ve just changed. There are new guys on their team this year, and now they have the experience of conference play.”
Memphis: The Tigers really struggled offensively in the first half. The Tigers couldn’t get anything going early because of the pressing Bearcats defense that caused four quick turnovers. The Bearcats continually took Memphis out of any flow in the first half, leaving the Tigers stuck under 30 percent shooting at the latter stages of the first half. Those shooting woes contributed to a stretch of more than five minutes without Memphis scoring as Cincinnati had 12 straight points. As an example of the lack of offensive flow, Memphis had only four assists in the game.
Smith noted that missed free throws curbed his team’s momentum during its comeback, but Cronin was unhappy with his teams’ free throw shooting also, along with 15 turnovers. “I’d love to take better care of the ball, be more efficient on offense and shoot the ball better at the foul line,” he said. “There are some areas I think we are a much better team than we showed.”
Cincinnati: hosts Houston on Wednesday.
Memphis: at South Florida on Wednesday