CINCINNATI (AP)—Maybe the unbeaten Bearcats were still caught up in their last win. Maybe they were looking ahead to their next big game.
Or maybe they just haven’t learned an elusive lesson. Once again, No. 10 Cincinnati packed it in long before the final buzzer.
Jason Maxiell returned from an ankle injury and gave Cincinnati its missing spark, leading a balanced attack that beat TCU 85-57 on Saturday night.
Maxiell fell hard in the opening minutes, hurt his right ankle, and was out of the game while Cincinnati (13-0, 4-0 Conference USA) played flat and fell behind. The power forward returned with a pair of emphatic dunks that finally got the Bearcats revved up.
It wasn’t enough to satisfy coach Bob Huggins, who screamed at his players and got a technical foul for going onto the court to berate an official with 56 seconds left.
He was most disturbed that his team let up once it got up by 37 points. The Bearcats failed to make another field goal and got outscored 13-4 over the final 7:53.
“In the last eight minutes, everyone stopped playing, everyone on the floor stopped working except TCU,” Huggins said, in a raspy voice.
His players sounded less concerned. Although the Bearcats have often gone soft with a big lead, they’ve always held on and won.
“Huggs is like that,” said James White, who had 15 points. “We have a goal to win each week, by 40 points or whatever, and we didn’t meet it today.”
For the seventh consecutive game, Cincinnati had four players in double figures, led by Tony Bobbitt’s 16 points. Maxiell finished with 15 points and a team-high six rebounds, and was limping when he finally came out of the game to get his ankle treated.
Once Cincinnati put some energy back into its press, TCU (6-9, 2-2) had no chance. The Horned Frogs shot 36.5 percent from the field and had a season-high 23 turnovers.
Nucleus Smith and Marcus Shropshire led TCU with 11 points apiece. The Horned Frogs couldn’t keep up with a much deeper team—the Bearcats have 10 players averaging at least 13 minutes apiece.
“What happened to us is probably what happens to a lot of people who play Cincinnati,” coach Neil Dougherty said. “Once you get deep into your bench, you start to fall apart.”
Huggins got angrier as the game went along, even though his team was winning convincingly. Upset by a call with 56 seconds left, he walked onto the court and screamed at official J.B. Caldwell, “That was awful! You were terrible!” He got a technical foul.
The Bearcats were the second team to preserve an unbeaten record in Cincinnati on Saturday. No. 6 Saint Joseph’s improved to 15-0 with an 81-73 victory earlier in the day on Xavier’s court.
TCU provided a good test of the Bearcats’ ability to focus. Cincinnati was coming off an emotional 85-73 win at No. 21 Marquette on Wednesday, and plays at No. 8 Louisville next Wednesday—two defining conference games.
The one in the middle didn’t get their attention at first.
The Horned Frogs sliced through a full-court press that had little bite, and led 20-17 with 8:20 left in the first half. Huggins was so angered that he played walk-on guard John Meeker for three minutes, sending a message to the rest of the team.
Maxiell hurt his ankle on a hard fall less than two minutes into the game, and went to the locker room for treatment. The Horned Frogs pulled ahead while he was away.
Maxiell returned and led a comeback that totally changed the game. He had a three-point play off an emphatic fast-break dunk, and dunked off a rebound to get the Bearcats energized.
Cincinnati closed the half with a 15-5 run and led 44-31 at the break—the most points the Bearcats have given up in a half this season.
After spending halftime with an unhappy Huggins, the Bearcats came out and went on a 19-4 run behind Maxiell, who had another three-point play off a fast-break dunk and swatted a shot away.
TCU missed four of its five shots and had five turnovers during the spurt, which pushed the lead to 63-35.