CINCINNATI (AP)—Once No. 16 Cincinnati remembered what it was supposed to do, Clemson was done.
Jason Maxiell scored 20 points and the Bearcats created a flurry of turnovers with their trapping defense Wednesday night, setting up a 79-56 victory.
The Bearcats (5-0) came out in a straight man-to-man defense—not what they were supposed to be playing. Coach Bob Huggins shuffled his lineup, and everything changed.
“We were supposed to start the game pressing, but they forgot,” Huggins said. “I tried to get those guys out and put in guys that remembered.”
With their memory refreshed, the Bearcats went on a decisive 27-5 spurt midway through the first half. Cincinnati forced 25 turnovers in all.
“It’s just like the ’92-’93 team,” guard Tony Bobbitt said, referring to Cincinnati’s dominant defensive teams. “That press is our bread and butter.”
Clemson (4-4) was playing its third game in five days, while Cincinnati was coming off a 15-day layoff. It showed as soon as the Bearcats applied a little pressure.
“We were kind of ready at the start,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “Once they hit us with that first blow, we kind of unraveled.
“It’s our worst performance of the year. You don’t want to make excuses, but we’ve played a lot of games in a short period of time. Cincinnati had fresh legs. We were hoping to use that against them, but we didn’t. Then our dead legs kind of showed up after that.”
Olu Babalola scored 13 points for Clemson, which has committed at least 21 turnovers in five of its eight games.
Cincinnati opened in its straight-up man-to-man defense, and Clemson found open shots on the perimeter at the outset. The Tigers held a slim lead for the first seven minutes.
That’s when Cincinnati started trapping furiously, and the Tigers came unhinged.
Clemson, which averages 20 turnovers per game, had trouble merely holding onto the ball during the 27-5 spurt that put Cincinnati ahead 37-19. Six turnovers led directly to rapid-fire baskets.
Huggins substituted freely to take advantage of his team’s depth.
“Huggs just told us in there, we threw five guys out there and then subbed five,” Bobbitt said. “I watch teams around the country, and I don’t see any that you can sub five for five. When guys are scrambling all over, the ball is going to fall in our hands.”
At one point, the Tigers had three consecutive turnovers, the first two resulting in uncontested layups. The low point came when Shawan Robinson took his eye off a pass and let it slip right through his hands and into the backcourt for a turnover.
Purnell, who was 1-5 against Cincinnati while he coached at Dayton, put the Tigers into a zone defense to try to help his tired team. That didn’t work, either—Field Williams immediately hit a wide-open 3-pointer, adding to the sense of futility. Williams finished with 17 points.
The lead got as high as 25 points in the first half, when Clemson had 11 turnovers and shot 35.7 percent from the field. Clemson opened the second half with a turnover—a traveling call—and had six turnovers in the first three minutes.
The Bearcats got soft and sloppy themselves, allowing Clemson to slowly trim the lead to 12. Vernon Hamilton’s 3-pointer cut it to 58-46 with 8:55 left, but Cincinnati cranked up the defensive pressure once again and pulled away.
Center Robert Whaley, who had surgery for torn cartilage on his left knee on Dec. 3, played for Cincinnati. He had four points and four rebounds.