No. 8 West Virginia outlasts Cincinnati 74-68
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP)—No. 8 West Virginia imposed its rebounding will after halftime to offset another double-digit deficit at home.
Kevin Jones scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half and the Mountaineers used a big rebounding advantage to come from 13 points down and beat Cincinnati 74-68 on Saturday.
West Virginia (22-6, 11-5 Big East) can earn a bye in the first two rounds of the conference tournament with a win over No. 11 Georgetown on Monday night.
The Mountaineers outrebounded Cincinnati 41-30 after the teams were even at halftime. West Virginia entered the game as the Big East’s top rebounding team, while Cincinnati was first in rebounding margin.
During practices, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has instilled a tactic in his players when it comes to corralling missed shots—he sends those who don’t hustle after them to a high-speed treadmill for punishment.
“We’ve got smart guys and they knew that we had to rebound the ball,” Huggins said. “It becomes a part of their DNA. If they don’t rebound in practice, they know that they’re on that treadmill.”
Ten of West Virginia’s 26 second-half rebounds came on the offense end.
“They got a lot of the long ones coming off on the offensive glass,” Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates said. “At times it seemed like the whole team was in there.”
Cincinnati is the Big East’s worst free throw shooting team but the Bearcats went 13 of 15 from the line, including 9 of 9 in the second half. That accuracy never transferred to the rest of Cincinnati’s game.
Cincinnati shot 29 percent (9 of 31) from the floor after halftime. The Bearcats led 46-36 after a pair of baskets by Gates two minutes into the second half. But the Bearcats went more than nine minutes without a field goal, allowing West Virginia to take over.
“When you miss a couple of layups, it’s crucial and we did it at crucial times when we needed a basket,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “Jump shots are jump shots, but you have to put the ball in when you’re right by the basket.”
Darryl Bryant added 14 points, Devin Ebanks had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Wellington Smith had 10 points for West Virginia.
Deonta Vaughn scored 15 points, Lance Stephenson had 14 and Gates added 10 for Cincinnati (16-12, 7-9), which saw its NCAA tournament hopes take a hit.
The Bearcats have games remaining against No. 7 Villanova and at Georgetown to finish the regular season. The conference tournament follows where Cincinnati has never won a game.
The last time the Bearcats came to town two years ago, it was West Virginia that had the worst shooting night in school history, going 20 percent from the floor in a 62-39 loss.
This time, West Virginia had to overcome the latest big deficit at home. They came from 14 down to beat No. 9 Ohio State on Jan. 23 and from 12 down to edge Louisville on Jan. 30.
Ebanks capped an 11-0 run with a three-point play to put the Mountaineers ahead 56-52 with 11:07 remaining, their first lead since midway through the first half.
Jones’ 3-pointer with 6:48 left put the Mountaineers ahead to stay and his layin with 1:34 left gave West Virginia a 68-62 cushion.
“I didn’t stand around in the second half waiting for something to happen,” Jones said. “I tried to be more aggressive and my teammates were looking for me in good spots and I give all the credit to them.”
Vaughn’s 3-pointer with 49 seconds left broke Cincinnati’s field-goal drought and cut the deficit to 69-65, but the Bearcats got no closer.
Huggins substituted often in the first half trying to find the right combination. Cincinnati made five 3-pointers in the first 11 minutes and, after West Virginia switched from a zone to man-to-man defense, Gates hit a layup and a dunk to cap a 9-0 run and give the Bearcats a 23-16 lead with eight minutes left until halftime.
Huggins emptied his bench after a Steve Toyloy layup pushed Cincinnati’s lead to 37-24. Leading scorer Da’Sean Butler and Jones sat out the final three minutes of the half and watched their teammates come back.
Backup Cam Thoroughman scored five of his career-high seven points after that and West Virginia pulled to 37-33 a minute before halftime.
“If we kept the same group in and kept getting beat in transition, we’d be down 20 at halftime,” said Huggins, who beat his former school for the first time in three tries. “Those guys came in and played really hard and made some plays.”