CINCINNATI (AP)—Coppin State anticipated the intense defensive pressure. It never expected to see Field Williams so wide-open, so many times.
Williams matched his career high with 24 points, hitting eight of his 10 3-point shots, and No. 19 Cincinnati relied on its trapping defense to beat Coppin State 76-56 on Saturday night.
Cincinnati (3-0) forced 29 turnovers that set up 30 of its points. Every time the Eagles (2-4) started closing in down the stretch, Williams hit another 3-pointer that turned them back.
“What surprised us today was Field Williams,” coach Ron Mitchell said.
The Bearcats’ inability to put the Eagles away until the closing minutes stunned coach Bob Huggins, who watched his team get outrebounded 35-28 even though he’d harped on it in practice.
“We didn’t rebound it again,” said a glum Huggins. “I’ve never seen more balls bounce off guys’ hands. It’s like we were playing with pingpong paddles glued to our hands. It’s unbelievable.”
Their trapping defense was the one dependable thing. Reserve guard Tony Bobbitt had a school-record eight steals, most of them off bad passes that led to fast-break layups.
“The ball was just falling right in my hands,” said Bobbitt, who also had 21 points. “I was like, ‘Wow, thanks,’ and I was away with it.”
Five of Coppin State’s players had four turnovers or more. Instead of looking for the open man, the Eagles passed the ball without looking around to see a defender going for the steal. Cincinnati finished with 17 steals in all.
“We knew from the beginning that Cincinnati would come at us,” Mitchell said. “They did a very good job of pressuring out kids. Every time we got to a point where we could make a run, we turned the ball over.”
Jimmy Boykin scored 21 points for Coppin State, which has played two games in Cincinnati but none at home. The Eagles lost their season opener at Xavier 62-37 in the Black Coaches Association Classic two weeks ago.
Coppin State is 1-22 overall against ranked teams, the lone victory an upset of South Carolina in the first round of the 1997 NCAA tournament. Cincinnati’s defense was the main thing that stood between the Eagles and another upset.
Panicky Coppin State had almost as many turnovers (eight) as shots (10) in the opening 11 minutes as the Bearcats pulled ahead to stay 27-10.
Williams, a streaky 3-point specialist, found his touch early to pace the Bearcats’ offense. He made 3s from the left corner, left wing and right wing, hitting four of his first five tries.
With Coppin State concentrating its zone defense on the Bearcats’ front line, Williams found himself unguarded behind the arc, and his teammates quickly found him.
“We just rotated the ball,” Williams said. “I was in the right spot at the right time.”
Things went so smoothly at the outset that Huggins stayed seated and mostly silent, a major change in demeanor from five days ago.
In an 89-60 victory over Oakland, Huggins was so perturbed by his starters’ lack of effort that he benched all five only 77 seconds into the game. He stayed with his starting five for six minutes, 33 seconds this time.
Bobbitt, the first player off the bench, landed in an assistant coach’s lap while diving for a loose ball, underscoring the effort that built a 40-24 halftime lead.
Huggins was up and screaming early in the second half, when Chad Yates scored five points in a 9-2 spurt that cut the lead to 44-33. At one point, Huggins benched Robert Whaley, crouched and lectured the center, who was 1-for-7 from the field and had only one rebound at that point.
Williams ended the comeback by hitting consecutive 3s, one from the left wing and another from the right, that rebuilt the lead to 18 points. When Coppin State got it down to 12 points one more time, one more 3-pointer by Williams turned the Eagles back again.