CINCINNATI — No. 20 Memphis didn't expect this out of Titus Rubles. And the Tigers weren't alone in their surprise.
Rubles scored a career-high 24 points, and Sean Kilpatrick had a season-high 34 as No. 15 Cincinnati followed the lead of its senior trio to a 97-84 victory Thursday night that kept the American Athletic Conference race tied.
The Tigers (22-8, 11-6 AAC) fell apart in the opening minutes and never got even or pulled ahead. Cincinnati's seniors kept the Bearcats ahead the whole game.
Kilpatrick led the way in his final home game at the school where he will end up as the No. 2 all-time scorer behind Oscar Robertson. Rubles easily eclipsed his previous career high, and forward Justin Jackson added 13 points and nine rebounds despite injuring a shoulder in the second half.
"It seemed like all their players were shooting well today," said Memphis forward Austin Nichols, who had 17 points. "I know Rubles won't do that most of the time. Kilpatrick can do it, but it was just Rubles' night tonight. He was hitting just about everything he was throwing up there."
The Bearcats (25-5, 14-3) remained tied atop the first-year league with No. 11 Louisville. The Cardinals won 84-71 at No. 18 Southern Methodist on Wednesday night and finish at home against No. 19 Connecticut. The Bearcats close the regular season at Rutgers.
Cincinnati and Louisville split their season series, each winning on the other's home court. The Bearcats haven't won a league title since they were in Conference USA.
The Bearcats piled up a season-high in points for an AAC game. It was the second-most points Memphis had allowed all season.
The Bearcats' three seniors combined for 71 points and didn't have a turnover.
"Seventy-one points and no turnovers? It's impossible," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "Their will was tremendous tonight."
Rubles' showing was the most unexpected. His previous career high was 14 points. He has reached double figures only six times this season.
"I wanted to put on a show for my mom," Rubles said. "It was her first time coming to a game. I was just playing with supreme confidence and it worked out good."
Cincinnati figured it had a mismatch with the freshman Nichols guarding Rubles. Once the forward got going, he gained confidence and kept making shots.
"Rubles had a career night," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "One of the officials came by and said he had officiated Cincinnati six times this year and never seen Rubles play like that."
Joe Jackson scored 21 points for Memphis, which turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, cut a 14-point deficit to one early in the second half and got overpowered down the stretch.
Kilpatrick and Jackson used their shirts to wipe tears from their eyes as they were honored at midcourt for senior night before the game. They helped the Bearcats pull away early.
Cincinnati's biggest downfall in the last two losses — 33 turnovers. The Bearcats worked on making good decisions under pressure during practice the last few days, and were spot-on when the game began.
The Bearcats didn't turn the ball over during an opening 18-4 run. Jackson had eight points and four rebounds in the spurt, which was set up by the Bearcats' tight defense. Memphis had eight turnovers and went 2 of 7 from the field in the first 8 minutes.
Kilpatrick hit a 3-pointer, but Michael Dixon Jr. matched it with 4 seconds left, cutting Cincinnati's halftime lead to 38-32.
Jackson had a driving layup, and Chris Crawford hit another 3 that cut it to 38-37. Cincinnati then lost Jackson, who was fouled while driving to the basket, doubled over in pain and left the court with his right arm tucked under him. He said the shoulder popped out of place. Jackson returned a few minutes later with a trainer rubbing the back of his shoulder and arm.
That's when Cincinnati's three senior starters took over. Kilpatrick, Jackson and Rubles combined for 12 points during a 15-3 run that rebuilt the lead to 58-45. The lead eventually reached 18 points before Cincinnati closed it out.
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