CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—While Charlotte was trying to upset No. 15 Cincinnati from the outside, the Bearcats took the inside track to victory.
Cincinnati’s frontcourt tandem of forward Jason Maxiell and center Kareem Johnson combined for 32 points in a 75-67 win over Charlotte on Saturday, avenging an earlier loss to the 49ers.
Charlotte had beaten the then-No. 8 Bearcats 86-83 in Cincinnati on Jan. 31, and had won seven of its last eight games.
Maxiell scored 18 points, Field Williams had 15 and Johnson added 14 points for Cincinnati (20-5, 11-3 Conference USA), which moved into a first-place tie in the league with No. 19 Memphis, which lost 66-60 at No. 21 Louisville on Saturday. The win gave Bearcats coach Bob Huggins his 13th 20-win season in 15 seasons at the school.
Charlotte connected on 5-of-11 3-pointers in the first half to build as much as an eight-point lead, but Maxiell and Johnson continued to find themselves open and each scored 10 points in the half.
“Max helped Kareem and Kareem helped Max and that took a lot of pressure off of us,” Cincinnati guard Tony Bobbitt said.
“I got several open looks and just hit my shots,” Maxiell said. “We fell behind early but we didn’t let the game get away from us.”
Huggins credited his team for not losing its poise, especially in the first half when Charlotte took an early lead.
“We felt like we gave up one to them in Cincinnati. You got to really defend your home turf in this league,” Huggins said. “I thought defensively we gave a heck of an effort in the second half.”
Forward Curtin Withers led Charlotte (18-7, 10-4) with 16 points and 12 rebounds—his 14th double-double of the season. Brendan Plavich scored 14 and Eddie Basden added 10.
“We really challenged our post guys to step up to guard Withers,” Huggins said. “He’s a very talented guy. He can score inside and out and down the stretch he killed us in the game at Cincinnati.”
Withers was 4-of-10 from the field and 8-of-10 from the free throw line.
Cincinnati evened its all-time record in eight games at Halton Arena. It had been just one of two sites in which the Bearcats had a losing conference record.
Charlotte, which led the whole first half, started the game with an 8-0 run and still led 21-13 with 9:03 left in the half.
Cincinnati cut the margin to 26-25 with 4:36 to go in the half, but could not get closer. Charlotte led 35-33 at halftime.
Cincinnati stayed close in the second half, but still trailed 48-42 with 15:42 to play. Nick Williams’ jumper and Armein Kirkland’s 3-pointer helped tie the game at 50 with 11:50 to go.
Cincinnati took control from there, moving out to a 68-60 lead with 3:58 to go.
However on the next play, Charlotte’s Demon Brown stole the ball and made a layup, cutting the margin to six. Cincinnati’s James White was then assessed a technical for shoving Brown after a timeout was called.
The 49ers’ Plavich hit both free throws to cut the margin to four, but Charlotte could get no closer the rest of the way.
“You can say we were outcoached or outplayed, they just executed so much better than we did,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. “We tried to change defenses, but they just handled it so well.
“We just weren’t able to stop them—that was the biggest thing. We outrebounded them (35-29) and we played hard enough to win, but we didn’t execute as well as they did.”