USF 80, No. 21 Cincinnati 68
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—The 21st-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats found out just how effective Terrence Leather can be when he plays an entire game.
Leather played only 12 minutes in the Bulls’ loss to Cincinnati on Jan. 27, but he scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half Thursday night in helping South Florida upset the Bearcats 80-68 in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals.
USF coach Robert McCullum said the Bulls were embarrassed by their performance in that 74-48 loss on their own court. Leather, the Bulls’ leading scorer, went scoreless before fouling out.
“He couldn’t wait for another opportunity,” McCullum said of playing Cincinnati. “I sort of had my preference of teams I wanted to play, and I know Cincinnati was one of his. It’s just great he sort of had a chance to redeem himself and come in in a winning fashion.”
Leather also grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. He even hit all three of his 3s after hitting only three 3-pointers all season. He credited an assistant coach with reminding him to quit thinking and just shoot.
“I was doing a lot of thinking instead of just shooting, shooting the ball,” Leather said.
The 11th-seeded Bulls (14-15) now have won three straight and reached the tournament semifinals for the first time in their last season as a member. The Bulls will be playing in the Big East next season along with Cincinnati.
No team has dominated Conference USA like the Bearcats, who were trying to add a fifth tournament title to the one they won last year.
But it will be the Bulls playing Memphis, an 83-69 upset winner over No. 25 Charlotte, in the semifinals Friday instead of Cincinnati (24-7) thanks to Leather.
Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said his Bearcats didn’t do anything to Leather in Tampa when foul trouble alone stopped the senior forward.
“He’s a very talented player,” Huggins said. “When he shoots it from 3 the way he did today, he’s hard to guard. He stepped out and made 3s. He scored with his back to the basket. He rebounded the ball.”
Brian Swift added 16 points for the Bulls, James Holmes and Marlyn Bryant each had 14.
Jason Maxiell led Cincinnati with 21 points, Eric Hicks added 18 and James White had 10.
The Bearcats had dominated their series with USF, winning 18 of the 21 games and the last 14.
USF, which now has upset two ranked teams in its winning streak, never backed down against the physical Bearcats. The Bulls outshot Cincinnati 45.2 percent to 37.1 percent and outrebounded the Bearcats 41-37.
Cincinnati hit just 12 of 36 in the second half.
“It was a very intense game, and South Florida had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Maxiell said. “Their season’s on the line, and they wanted the game more than we did.”
Huggins said he tried everybody hoping to improve Cincinnati’s offense.
“Our ball movement wasn’t very good. When you don’t have any patience, it’s hard. We came down and dribbled it about eight times and shot a 3 once. The same guy on the same side of the floor. That’s not very good basketball,” Huggins said.
The Bearcats led 50-46 on a jumper by Armein Kirkland when the Bulls got going and scored the next 11 points, including eight from Leather. His second straight 3-pointer put the Bulls up 57-50 with 11:16 left.
The Bulls led 71-57 on a bucket by Jones with 6:41 to go.
Cincinnati tried to respond as White scored on a three-point play, and Nick Williams hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to pull within 71-65 with 5:13 left. That was as close as the Bearcats would get.
The Bulls led 36-35 at halftime after refusing to back down against Cincinnati in a half with five ties and eight lead changes.
USF upset sixth-seeded Houston in the opening round, and the Bulls started their quarterfinal with an 8-2 run for a 21-13 lead on Leather’s 3 midway through the half.
“It almost seemed like they surprised us that they played as well early as they did,” Huggins said. “It seemed like we were playing from behind the whole game.”