HOUSTON (AP)—Jason Maxiell made the most of his limited minutes.
Maxiell overcame early foul trouble to score 14 points, including a dunk and two free throws in the final 1:25, and No. 10 Cincinnati ended a two-game losing streak Saturday with a 54-51 victory over Houston.
Maxiell played just six minutes in the first half because of three quick fouls, but was competently spelled by Robert Whaley, who had a season-high 17 points for the Bearcats (16-3, 7-2 Conference USA).
“I got in the foul trouble in the first half, and I wasn’t able to get into the game, so I just told Rob to be a force inside and make plays,” Maxiell said. “Then I came out in the second and re-established myself and finished strong.”
Maxiell had 11 of the Bearcats’ final 15 points and almost single-handedly ended the upset hopes of Houston (8-12, 2-7), which held Cincinnati to its lowest point total of the season.
After Marcus Oliver’s layup put Houston ahead 51-50 with 1:52 left, Maxiell’s dunk off Tony Bobbitt’s missed shot with 1:25 remaining gave the Bearcats the lead for good. He then hit two free throws with seven seconds left.
Maxiell said the decisive scoring play was drawn for Bobbitt, the Bearcats’ usually reliable sixth man.
“He got to the top of the key, put up a shot, but it didn’t go down,” Maxiell said. “So I just did my job and got the rebound.”
Lanny Smith’s last-chance 3-point try fell short for Houston.
“Our defensive effort was one of our best of the year,” said coach Ray McCallum, whose Cougars have lost nine of 11. “Our effort was outstanding and we are a lot closer than it appears to the average fan to turning the corner.”
Andre Owens scored 18 points for the Cougars, and Oliver added 12.
Cincinnati, which had lost three of five after winning its first 13 games, was coming off losses to Charlotte and Xavier. The Bearcats improved to 21-1 against Houston and haven’t lost to the Cougars in 31 years.
They came close Saturday and they knew it.
“I’ve been doing this enough years that I never know what to expect,” said Bearcats coach Bob Huggins, whose 20-point average margin of victory led the nation heading into the week.
Houston outrebounded Cincinnati 44-36. The difference was points off turnovers, with the Bearcats holding a 12-2 advantage.
Both sides started sluggish until Houston pulled to a 19-12 lead on a pair of ally-oop dunks by Anwar Ferguson. His second jam would be the Cougars’ last field goal for about six minutes, however.
Cincinnati, led by Whaley’s 13 first-half points, closed the gap and took a brief lead until Houston’s Owens hit two 3-pointers in the final two minutes to send the teams into halftime tied at 28.