ST. LOUIS (AP)—Saint Louis tried to stop Cincinnati’s inside force, Jason Maxiell. Unfortunately for the Billikens, that left Armein Kirkland open.
Kirkland scored a game high 22 points to lead No. 23 Cincinnati to a 69-53 win over Saint Louis on Saturday night.
James White also had 13 points for the Bearcats (13-1, 2-0 Conference USA). Cincinnati has won its last two after suffering its only loss to No. 1 Illinois on New Year’s Eve. The Bearcats have beaten 12 of their first 14 opponents by 10 points or more.
Kirkland said he was somewhat surprised that he didn’t draw more attention as the game progressed.
“Coming in, we thought they’d try to limit Max and they just sat back on Max, so we got good looks,” Kirkland said. “Most guys respect our perimeter game more than that.”
Maxiell, however, wasn’t caught off guard.
“Their game plan was to not let me win the game,” said Maxiell, who nevertheless scored 17 and grabbed nine rebounds. “It’s been like that for three years.”
Saint Louis did make one adjustment on Kirkland, but it didn’t work.
“We tried to force him to his left,” Vas’Shun Newborne said. “But he got on a roll, and we couldn’t stop him.”
Izik Ohanon led Saint Louis with 18 points before fouling out with 2:31 remaining, and Anthony Drejaj added 13 points.
Saturday’s game was likely the last between the longtime, conference rivals, who will each go to a new conference next year. Saint Louis (3-11, 1-1) likely won’t miss the Bearcats; Cincinnati leads the all-time series 59-19.
This one appeared to be a mismatch on paper, as Cincinnati entered the contest ranked fourth in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.353) while Saint Louis was last in Conference USA in scoring (53.2 points per game) and shooting percentage (.381). But Saint Louis kept it fairly close most of the way.
“This was not one of our more artistic offensive performances,” Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. “Armein had a strong game, and when they got close, Max made some big baskets for us.”
Ohanon seemed determined to keep Saint Louis in it from the opening tip. He scored eight of the Billikens’ first 12 points as SLU jumped out to a 12-8 advantage with 13:02 left in the first half.
Cincinnati used the long ball to resume control, hitting five of its first nine shots from behind the 3-point line. Nick Williams and Jihad Muhammad connected early to give Cincinnati a 23-18 lead.
After Ohanon made it 23-22 with consecutive baskets, the Bearcats switched tactics and began sending it inside, leading to a 9-0 run that made it 32-22 with 1:07 left. Maxiell did most of the damage, scoring four of his eight first-half points in that stretch.
The Bearcats finished the half on a high note, with a block by Eric Hicks leading to a fast-break dunk by White to give Cincinnati a 34-24 halftime lead.
After Ian Vouyoukas scored inside with 14:15 left to cut the lead to nine, Cincinnati went on a 9-0 run capped by Kirkland’s fourth 3-pointer of the game with 12:08 left, which made it 52-36. Saint Louis never got closer than nine points after that.
Hicks scored six points and had three blocks for the Bearcats, giving him 102 rejections for his career.