ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The shots didn’t fall, but Cincinnati is still standing.
The No. 8 Bearcats beat an injury-depleted SMU 61-51 on Friday to advance to the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament. The Bearcats (28-4) face Memphis on Saturday.
Kyle Washington scored 15 points and Gary Clark had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Cincinnati. Cane Broom had 13 points for the Bearcats, who were 2 of 14 on 3-point attempts and shot 42 percent.
“We won without making shots, which is something Coach (Bob) Huggins taught me 20 years ago,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “I think you have to give SMU credit for why the game was competitive. They didn’t make it easy for us.”
Cincinnati, which trailed 38-32 with 15 minutes left, missed its first 10 shots from behind the 3-point line against SMU’s zone defense.
Broome ended the drought with a corner shot with 5:34 left, and that proved a turning point. He got fouled on his next 3-point attempt and made all three free throws. Clark connected another corner 3, and suddenly the Bearcats had a 57-47 lead.
That was enough of a cushion to finish the last three minutes with SMU never getting closer than 10.
“When teams are scrambling hard and playing hard, shots aren’t always going to fall,” Clark said. “That’s why you’ve got to play defense like we did.”
Cincinnati limited SMU to 24 points in the second half on 11 of 31 shooting. The Mustangs also struggled from the perimeter, hitting just five of 21 3-pointers.
Jahmal McMurray led SMU (18-16) with 17 points and Ben Emelogu had 11 points and seven rebounds.
The Mustangs got eight points and six rebounds from their best big man, Akoy Agau, but he reinjured a severely sprained ankle on the first possession of the game and was limited to 24 minutes.
SMU played Cincinnati even for the first 30 minutes, but with Agau limping and no other big men available to compete on the boards, the Mustangs weren’t able to pull off an upset. Cincinnati got 14 offensive rebounds, converting four into baskets during a 10-0 run in the second half.
“With seven people, some of them playing hurt, we had to make the choice to become a zone team and when you do that, rebounding is far more difficult,” SMU coach Tim Jankovich said. “You pick your poison and playing zone was the poison we had to pick.”
Agau hit a 3-pointer to start a 7-0 spurt by SMU that gave the Mustangs their biggest lead of the game, 38-32 with 15:27 left in the game.
Cincinnati, however, converted four straight offensive rebounds and added a layup by Tre Scott to regain the lead 42-38 with just over 11 minutes to play.
CINCINNATI: The Bearcats got the dreaded first game of the tournament jitters out of the way. Cincinnati was very good defensively, as usual, but the Bearcats’ perimeter players, especially Jarron Cumberland and Justin Jenifer, need to make a few jump shots to open things up.
SMU: Any evaluation of the Mustangs’ season has to begin with injuries to their best players – Shake Milton (hand) and Jarrey Foster (torn ACL) in the middle of the season and season-long problems for Emelogu (hand) and Agau (ankle). That crippled the Mustangs’ hopes of reaching the NCAAs and decided their fate in the AAC Tournament when Agau couldn’t play because of ankle injury. Emelogu and Agau won’t be back and Milton could be headed to the NBA, so a rebuild is in order.
SEASON NOT OVER?
SMU was projected into the NCAA Tournament before losing three key players to injuries in the middle of the season. The Mustangs finished year with losses in nine of their last 11 games. Still, coach Tim Jankovich hopes his team receives an NIT invitation. “Before the injuries, we had three Top 15 wins, we were ahead of where we could expect to be, and then the bottom dropped out,” Jankovich said. “So, of course, we would accept.”
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