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Cincinnati gets out of rut with win at Rutgers

The SportsXchange

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Cincinnati found out there's no place like the road to snap a losing streak, especially in an arena that can be cruel to visitors.

The No. 21 Bearcats didn't shoot the ball particularly well against Rutgers on Saturday night but compensated with defense in their 68-58 win over their Big East opponent before 5,560 at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

In addition to ending the three-game skid, all at home, the victory for Cincinnati (14-3, 2-2 Big East) was especially meaningful as it prepares to play four of its next six games on the road. Coach Mick Cronin's team faces DePaul, Syracuse, Seton Hall and Providence in the next three weeks.

Cincinnati, which is 6-0 on the road this season, was paced by Cashmere Wright's 23 points. The senior point guard didn't turn the ball over in 33 minutes.

"He was off the charts," Cronin said. "I asked him to do a lot and he responded against a team that kept coming after him. They had to because they were behind."

The Bearcats, who are ninth in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (36.5), have held their opponents below 40 percent from the field in 11 of 17 games.

Rutgers shot 37.7 percent from the floor (37.7).

"We were trying to get back to being one of the best defensive teams in the Big East, if not the country," Cronin said. "To beat quality teams we have to get to holding teams in the 30 percent range."

The Cincinnati defense clamped down on Rutgers' leading scorer Dane Miller, who averages 16.9 points per game. Miller scored six points and made just 1 of 11 shots from the field.

The RAC, as it is affectionately referred to, is considered one of the loudest and most intimidating on-campus arenas in the country. But the Bearcats, with help from Rutgers' poor shooting, effectively took the crowd out of most of the game.

"We knew their fans are going to be talking bad," Wright said. "At the pregame meal, I told them if we could control the game early we can control the whole game."

Rutgers closed to 10 points several times late in the game, only to see the Bearcats put together mini-spurts. The Knights moved to eight points at 64-56, but there was just 46 seconds left to play.

Rutgers (11-4, 2-2) was attempting to go 3-1 in the conference for the first time since it joined the Big East in 1995. However, coach Mike Rice's team never got into an offensive rhythm, taking low-percentage shots and getting beaten to too many loose balls.

"There was no fire and brimstone out of me today," said Rice, who was suspended for three games earlier this season because of inappropriate behavior and language toward his players. "My team really tried hard. They just didn't respond the way I would've liked in the first half in becoming tougher and relying too much on jump shots."

The Scarlet Knights were outrebounded 41-34 and led by 15 points from guard Myles Mack.

The Bearcats led 27-15 at the half despite their worst shooting performance from the floor this season. They made just 9 of 30 for 29 percent from the field and 4 of 16 from 3-point range.

A combination of poor shooting and tight defense by both teams resulted in five minutes going by in the first half before the first field goal was made, a 3-pointer from JaQuon Parker of Cincinnati.

Rutgers struggled from the floor in the early going as well. It converted just one of its first nine shots while committing four turnovers in the first 13 minutes. The Scarlet Knights were particularly ineffective from long range, failing to knock down any of their six 3-point attempts in the half.

The Bearcats took advantage of the Scarlet Knights' sloppy play by going on an 8-0 spurt to grab a 19-7 cushion with 5:34 remaining in the half.

"They played harder and tougher," Rice said of Cincinnati. "That's why they won."

NOTES: Rutgers guard Myles Mack leads the Big East in free-throw percentage (.917) and is fourth in 3-point field-goal percentage (.481), sixth in steals (2.07) and 10th in field-goal percentage (.545). ... Wright, a senior, needs 11 steals and 79 assists to become the career leader for the Bearcats. ... For the second straight game, Cincinnati wore its "black out" uniforms. The Bearcats donned them Monday in a 66-60 loss to Notre Dame.
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