No. 13 Cincinnati 55, DePaul 50
CINCINNATI (AP)—An elbow flew, followed by a fist. Players talked trash as they chased each other down the court. Finally, the pep band struck up the theme from “Rocky.”
This title game mimicked a prize fight, and once again, Cincinnati was the last one standing.
Tony Bobbitt overcame a punch to the groin, returning to make the decisive shots, and the 13th-ranked Bearcats won another Conference USA tournament championship by beating DePaul 55-50 on Saturday.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Bobbitt, wearing one of the nets around his neck. “We got the win.”
The Bearcats (24-6) survived a tumultuous second half—a technical foul, an ejection, a wild last minute—to get their fourth tournament title. They also won a share of the regular season championship.
Bobbitt left the game after LeVar Seals hit him in the groin with 8:22 left, drawing an ejection. When he recovered from the low blow, Bobbitt made a pivotal 3-pointer and a driving lay-in that clinched it.
Bobbitt ran down the court with his arms raised like a championship fighter after his lay-in put Cincinnati up 52-45 with 39 seconds left. He was voted the tournament’s MVP, finishing with a team-high 17 points.
Seals evidently retaliated for Bobbitt—the Bearcats’ most insatiable trash talker—bending his ear after he hit a 3-pointer on Cincinnati’s previous possession.
“I had a couple of words to say. Wow,” Bobbitt said. “That’s what we’re known for, our toughness. We were both talking, and I’m not going to shut my mouth.”
DePaul (21-9) shot a season-low 35.3 percent from the field in its second Conference USA tournament final. The Blue Demons lost to Saint Louis in the 2000 game, and were glum after losing their composure and another title game.
“They played pretty good defense,” said Delonte Holland, who had 17 points. “It was a real physical game. That’s all I have to say.”
There were two technical fouls and Seals’ ejection in a hard-edged game played only 12 hours after the semifinals ended. There was some recent history involved, of course.
The teams split their season series, with DePaul beating the Bearcats in Chicago last week. That game cost Cincinnati a chance to win the regular season championship outright, setting up a five-way tie for first place.
“They ruined our chance for the outright title,” said forward Eric Hicks, who had 10 points, nine rebounds and a technical foul. “We were looking for payback. Whoever wins the conference tournament is the conference champion to me.”
Just as it did during its semifinal win over Alabama-Birmingham, DePaul came out lethargic and fell behind by double-digits. This time, there would be no comeback.
There were plenty of nasty moments.
Field Williams hit a 3 and Bobbitt made three free throws for a 12-point lead late in the first half. The last free throw came off a technical foul on Drake Diener, who lost his cool under tight defensive coverage.
Diener and Williams jockeyed for position on an inbound play, prompting referee Tim Higgins to step between them and lecture. Diener later threw an elbow at Williams after he was fouled while dribbling, drawing the technical. Diener finished 0-for-4 from behind the arc with seven points.
The Bearcats gave DePaul a chance to get back into it by failing to score for more than six minutes at the start of the second half. Cincinnati missed its first five shots and had four turnovers.
Hicks, who hangs on the rim and showboats after dunks, did it again after breaking the Bearcats’ drought with an emphatic slam at 13:45. He drew a technical foul, and coach Bob Huggins walked onto the court and screamed, “I told you!” at Hicks.
Holland’s putback with 10:38 cut it to 39-34, but Bobbitt hit a 3-pointer to blunt the comeback, then was involved in the game’s defining moment.
Seals punched Bobbitt in the groin during a play, sending the wiry 6-foot-4 guard to the floor in pain. Seals was ejected and booed loudly as he walked off the floor.
DePaul coach Dave Leitao said there was a lot of trash talking going on.
“We tried to get it stopped earlier in the game,” Leitao said. “A guy lost his cool that really shouldn’t have. It just continued and the guy made a stupid decision and he had to pay for it by leaving the game.”
Huggins held no grudge over the low blow.
“Dave runs a class program,” Huggins said. “I don’t see what happened as in any way, shape or form a reflection on DePaul’s program.”
DePaul couldn’t get closer than five points, and Hicks’ putback made it 47-39 with 2:56 left. Bobbitt then hit a 3-pointer from the right wing, and flexed his thin arms in a muscle pose as he ran down the court.
During the next timeout, the DePaul pep band played the theme from “Rocky.”