CINCINNATI (AP)—Eight days, two Top 25 upsets. It seems Cincinnati is onto something here.
Adam Hrycaniuk had two tip-ins during a 13-point run in the second half Saturday that helped Cincinnati pull off its second Big East surprise, 62-59 over depleted No. 15 Pittsburgh.
One week after the Bearcats (9-9, 4-2) beat then-No. 19 Villanova on a last-minute shot, they held on for another eye-opening win. Cincinnati won only two Big East games last season, when it finished dead last.
“We’re not where we need to be, but we’re taking steps forward,” point guard Jamual Warren said. “A lot of people didn’t think we’d be this far this quick. They probably thought we’d win more games, but not this many.”
Pittsburgh never expected so many injuries.
The Panthers (15-3, 3-2) fell behind after another injury sapped their lineup. Forward Keith Benjamin jammed and cut his right hand late in the first half, and had trouble shooting when he returned wearing a wrap.
The Panthers were already down two starters to injury, so Benjamin was needed.
“Keith had to get his hand stitched up, and he came back and played,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “I’ve got to give him a lot of credit. I’m proud of him for doing that.”
With a chance to tie in the closing seconds, Benjamin took a 3 that was blocked by Rashad Bishop. He got the ball back and made another 3-point attempt that was well short at the buzzer.
It was Bishop’s 3-pointer with 22 seconds left that gave Cincinnati a 69-66 win over Villanova in the last home game.
“Rashad’s got a long wingspan,” guard Deonta Vaughn said. “He can block a lot of shots from right there. He blocked a shot, (Benjamin) tried to get it off again, and luckily it was an air ball.”
Vaughn led Cincinnati with 14 points, including a fastbreak layup and three free throws in the final 1:18. Hrycaniuk added 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
The game drew 10,684 fans, the biggest crowd for a Bearcats home game this season, but still shy of capacity in the 13,176-seat arena. Hrycaniuk hopes the upsets convince fans that unlike last season, these Bearcats are worth watching.
“The crowd is getting involved in the game, and it’s easier to play,” Hrycaniuk said. “We do all we can to make them happy. Hopefully it’s going to be a sellout the next few games.”
Hrycaniuk’s tip-ins—one off a missed free throw—sparked the Bearcats’ surge to a 53-40 lead with 6:32 left. By that time, the Panthers were scrambling to assemble a lineup. Tyrell Biggs had four fouls, and Benjamin was limited by the mashed hand.
Sam Young led Pittsburgh with 24 points and nine rebounds. Instead of lamenting the oh-so-close finish, Young was thinking more about Pittsburgh’s lackluster first half.
“We had trouble in the first half and were only up by one,” Young said. “If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we’re up 10 or 15 and we wouldn’t have had that problem.”
The Panthers have a lot of experience at overcoming injuries. Forward Mike Cook tore a knee ligament against Duke, and point guard Levance Fields broke his left foot in the next game, an 80-55 loss to Dayton on Dec. 29 that ended their 11-0 start.
Ronald Ramon took over at point guard and had steadied the Panthers to a 4-1 record in their last five games, including a 69-60 win over Georgetown on Monday night. Benjamin took Cook’s spot and averaged 17 points.
Things seemed to have leveled off. Late in the first half Saturday, the Panthers were waiting for another medical report.
Benjamin hit two 3-pointers in a 12-3 run that put Pittsburgh ahead 22-20. After a missed Cincinnati shot, Benjamin grabbed his right hand as he headed up the court. The officials stopped the game to wipe up the blood, and Benjamin went into the locker room for treatment.
He returned for the second half with his hand wrapped, but had trouble dribbling and shooting. Benjamin finished 4-of-11 from the field for 11 points.
When freshman DeJuan Blair went to the bench with his third foul at 18:50 of the second half, Pittsburgh was just trying to hang on. Biggs soon was in foul trouble as well.
After Cincinnati appeared to take control with its 13-point run, Young rallied the Panthers. Young, wearing a bandage on his forehead from a second-half bump, made a three-point play that cut it to 54-48 and set up the last-shot finish.