No. 24 Cincinnati 89, TCU 74
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP)—Jihad Muhammad lost his role as a Cincinnati starter three weeks ago because of his inconsistent play, and was scoreless with five turnovers in his only start since.
On Saturday, Muhammad showed how good he can be.
Muhammad made 8-of-11 shots for 21 points, including four 3-pointers, and the 24th-ranked Bearcats beat TCU 89-74. He added three assists and two steals, and had only two of Cincinnati’s 22 turnovers.
“He doesn’t pout, he doesn’t sulk,” coach Bob Huggins said. “He listens and tries to learn. He’s putting extra time in, and is really receptive of what we’re trying to tell him.”
A week earlier at home, Muhammad was booed constantly during the turnover-plagued 14 minutes in which he had no assists. No longer was the junior college transfer the fan favorite who scored 40 points his first two games.
Huggins and his teammates continued to encourage him. He responded by making 3-of-5 shots Thursday before his best game since his impressive debut three months ago.
“It means a great deal, me being down on myself and the team and coach still behind you,” Muhammad said. “Definitely, I played terrible. I needed some kind of boost.”
He provided the boost for Cincinnati against the Horned Frogs.
Muhammad had consecutive 3-pointers in a game-turning stretch and his jumper with 2:49 left in the first half put the Bearcats (21-6, 10-4 Conference USA) ahead to stay.
Nick Williams had 14 points and six assists, and James White had 16 points for the Bearcats, who shot a season-best 61 percent (30-of-49) to counter the turnovers that matched a season worst for the second time in three games. Jason Maxiell had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The Frogs (17-11, 7-7), looking for their first NCAA tournament berth since 1998, missed a chance to make a strong late-season statement. Like Cincinnati, TCU had won four of its previous five games.
“I don’t know if winning puts you in,” coach Neil Dougherty said. “I do know this, we probably needed to win to continue a bubble thought. … Bubble talk is fun, but I’m not going to tell my kids anything like that because I don’t think it’s realistic.”
Corey Santee scored TCU’s first 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers before Cincinnati even scored. But the Frogs couldn’t maintain that momentum.
“We knew how big a game this was,” Santee said. “This could have really helped us out. Everybody is disappointed.”
TCU is 11-85 all-time against ranked teams, 1-12 in three seasons under Dougherty.
Aaron Curtis led TCU with 22 points, and Santee added just six more after his opening flurry. Marcus Shropshire had 12 points on four 3-pointers.
Muhammad’s consecutive 3-pointers tied the game at 21-all with 8:51 left in the first half. White then turned consecutive TCU turnovers into baskets to cap the 12-2 run and give the Bearcats their first lead.
Six minutes later, Muhammad’s jumper broke a 31-31 tie. The lead was 40-34 at halftime, and grew to 52-38 after Williams made two free throws with 16:05 left.
Cincinnati had six of its turnovers in the first seven minutes, and TCU led 14-9.
“It seemed like we had 22 turnovers the first eight minutes,” Huggins said. “We didn’t come out and handle the ball very strongly. Their quickness is really good. A lot of it was them, some of it us.”
The Frogs’ largest lead was 19-13 when Curtis drove the left side of the lane for a one-handed slam. Then came the first significant run by Cincinnati.
TCU has never won in five games against Cincinnati, including their three games as Conference USA opponents and an NCAA first-round game in 1959.