Cincinnati holds off NCCU for 74-61 win
College basketball's new emphasis on calling fouls paid off for the Cincinnati Bearcats in their season-opener on Friday.
Sean Kilpatrick scored 22 points and Jermaine Sanders added a career-high 13 as Cincinnati held off a North Carolina Central Eagles comeback cut short by Jeremy Ingram fouling out before pulling away for a 74-61 win on Friday in the season-opener for both teams.
Titus Rubles also reached double figures with 13 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds for Cincinnati (1-0).
The 6-foot-3 Ingram scored a game-high 27 points, 19 in the second half, before fouling out with 6:20 left in the game.
"It helped us down the stretch," Kilpatrick admitted after the game. "He's a great player. He's good off the dribble. He's small and hard to guard."
Jay Copeland fouled out on a technical foul with 4:08 left with 11 points for the Eagles (0-1). Copeland also finished with eight rebounds.
The teams combined to be called for 51 fouls, 29 on NCCU, with officials whistling contact such as hand checking that previously was allowed. Cincinnati's depth was the difference, Eagles coach LeVelle Moton said.
"Attrition," he said. "They just wore us down, and the foul trouble hurt us. At the end of the day, I think we only had eight people. I thought I was about to have to check in for a minute. We just have to get healthy, but until then we can't feel sorry for ourselves. It is what it is and this is the way the ball bounces sometimes. We have to compete and get these guys some valuable experience."
Before a crowd of 6,532, the Bearcats improved to 21-1 in season-openers at Fifth Third Arena and 31-2 in their last 33 season openers overall. The Bearcats have won 48 of their last 49 home openers, the only loss to Belmont, 86-75, in 2007.
In the first-ever meeting between the two teams, Cincinnati led by as many as 15 points, 60-45, on a Kilpatrick 3-pointer with 11:11 left in the game before the Eagles mounted a comeback led by Ingram, whose free throw with 7:04 remaining cut the Bearcats' lead to 62-57.
"He's a good player," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "If you give a guy 11 free throws, he's going to find a rhythm. We obviously did a very poor job finding him. I was really disappointed in our halfcourt defense all night. We really struggled all night."
Cincinnati held NCCU without a field goal during a 22-4 run that pulled the Bearcats from a 14-6 deficit to a 28-18 lead with 5:30 left in the first half. Sanders sank two 3-pointers during the run.
Rubles scored nine points in the first half to help Cincinnati take a 40-26 lead by halftime.
The Bearcats shook off a rough start to their season, missing their first seven shots from the field before Jackson scored on a layup with 14:34 left in the first half.
"It ws good for me to get some offense going," Jackson said. "I'm always going to be ready to play defense, but seeing my shot go in gave me a boost of confidence."
Cronin wasn't surprised to see the junior forward contribute.
"That's how he practiced," the coach said. "I can count on Jermaine Sanders. You know he's going to be in the right spot and play smart. He's really worked hard on knocking down shots. He's an invaluable guy to our basketball team because I can count on him."
Kilpatrick agreed with the suggestion that the Bearcats might've been a little too excited at the beginning of the game.
"That usually happens with season openers," the senior guard said. "We're so used to playing each other the whole summer and preseason, everyone is so hyped because we're playing someone else. We slowed down from the middle of the first half going into the second. Slowing down helps a lot."
The game was the first of seven straight at home for the Bearcats, who are playing their 25th season at Fifth Third Arena. The first four are part of the Global Sports Shootout. Cincinnati is scheduled to face a second North Carolina team, North Carolina State, on Tuesday.
The Eagles are scheduled to play Johnson and Wales in their home-opener on Monday.