MILWAUKEE (AP)—Cincinnati used its pressure defense to offset any homecourt advantage Marquette may have had.
Tony Bobbitt scored 18 points and Nick Williams added a season-high 16 to lead No. 10 Cincinnati to an 85-73 victory over No. 21 Marquette on Wednesday night, only the Golden Eagles’ second loss in 40 home games.
It was the first time the Bearcats (12-0, 3-0 Conference USA) played a ranked team this year and they scored 24 points off Marquette’s season-high 23 turnovers.
“There’s no doubt we were ready to play,” Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. “We were looking for a challenge.”
Marquette’s Travis Diener scored 19 points, but missed seven of 11 shots, and Steve Novak added 17 points for Marquette (11-3, 2-1), which had a four-game winning streak snapped. The only other loss for the Golden Eagles at the Bradley Center during the past 40 games was 73-70 to Louisville on Feb. 15, 2003.
“We knew what we had to do to win, but we just didn’t execute as a team,” Diener said.
It was the biggest game of the year for the Bearcats, who had their streak of seven consecutive Conference USA championships snapped last year by Marquette. It was the only regular-season game between the teams this year.
“They have something that we feel belongs to us and that’s the conference title,” Williams said. “They’re the best team we’ve played all year and they’re conference champions. They have something we want.”
Marquette practiced its offense against seven defenders to get ready for Cincinnati’s pressure. It mattered little as the Golden Eagles had trouble with the Bearcats’ tall, athletic players most of the game.
“We were our own worst enemy against the press,” Marquette coach Tom Crean said. “We didn’t strike first. They did.”
Cincinnati used a 14-4 run to take a 50-35 lead on Field Williams’ 3-pointer with 12:23 left. After a timeout, Marquette used full-court pressure to cause two turnovers on defense, and the Golden Eagles scored seven consecutive points, capped by Scott Merritt’s two free throws, to pull within 50-42 with 10:08 to go.
Bobbitt, though, scored seven points in the next 2 1/2 minutes, including a 3-pointer with 7:30 left, as Cincinnati opened a 62-48 lead.
Marquette fouled in the closing minutes, and the Bearcats missed nine of 21 free throws in the final 6:04 to allow the Golden Eagles to stay within striking distance.
Marquette got within 77-70 on Merritt’s three-point play with 1:01 left, but Field Williams made two free throws for a 79-70 lead with 56 seconds to go. Joe Chapman then missed a 3-pointer for Marquette and Karon Bradley’s shot was blocked on the Golden Eagles next possession to seal the victory for Cincinnati.
Sophomore Eric Hicks set a career high with 15 points and tied a career high with 10 rebounds for the Bearcats. Merritt scored 16 points for Marquette.
Cincinnati’s defense helped it take a 34-25 halftime lead. Marquette committed 16 turnovers leading to 14 Bearcats’ points, and Diener missed five of six shots. Cincinnati, though, missed 22 of 32 shots in the half.
It was the closest game of the year for the Bearcats, who won their first 11 games by an average of 26.2 points.
Cincinnati starting forward Armein Kirkland missed the game with a left knee injury. The sophomore is averaging 6.8 points.