CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick found out a couple hours before Saturday's Big East Conference home game against 25th-ranked Marquette that starting point guard Cashmere Wright wasn't going to play. "We're down a leader," Kilpatrick told his teammates.
Kilpatrick then went out and scored a career-high 36 points, including the game-winning shot in overtime, lifting the Bearcats to a thrilling 71-69 victory before 12,812 fans at Fifth Third Arena.
"They were face-guarding me the whole overtime period," said Kilpatrick. "I just thought if they gave me some breathing room ... I just took their power forward (off the dribble). I was going to do whatever it takes. Great shooters don't stop shooting."
After Kilpatrick's driving layup put the Bearcats ahead with 4.2 seconds left, a tip-in attempt by Marquette's Trent Lockett fell off the rim at the buzzer.
Cincinnati (16-3, 4-2 Big East) was playing without Wright, who averaged 15.1 points and 3.7 assists before spraining his knee Tuesday at DePaul. Wright was vocal on the bench throughout Saturday's game. "It was like he was on the court with us," said Kilpatrick.
Titus Rubles added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Bearcats.
"A lot of big efforts by our team tonight," said Bearcats coach Mick Cronin. "When you lose a player, the first game is always the toughest. We made a lot of big plays down the stretch to win the game."
Marquette (13-4, 4-1 Big East) trailed by 16 points at halftime before its furious rally in the second half led by Vander Blue, who scored 14 of his team-leading 19 points after halftime.
Marquette's Davante Gardner scored 15 points, including 13 from the free throw line. He hit two free throws with 2.9 seconds left to send the game into overtime, then converted a 3-point play with 14.8 seconds left in OT, tying the score 66-66 to set up Kilpatrick's heroics.
"I was worried about fouling Gardner, and we did," said Cronin. "Give him credit. He hit the free throws into a pretty tough environment, our student section."
The Golden Eagles never led in regulation. Todd Mayo's 3-pointer to begin the overtime period put them ahead for the first time, 66-63.
"This is our margin, this is who we are," said Marquette coach Buzz Williams. "I think that if we're going to win it's going to be a one- or two-possession game."
Marquette connected on seven of its first 10 3-point attempts in the second half, including three straight by Blue, after the Golden Eagles went 0-for-9 in the first half.
There were 51 fouls called in Saturday's game and 60 free throw attempts. Four players fouled out.
"I was talking to my team at halftime about throwing me the ball so I could foul their big men out so we have a chance to come back and win," said Gardner. "We just didn't come back."
Cincinnati's offense relied on rebounding to create scoring opportunities early in Saturday's game, outrebounding Marquette 26-18, including 10-7 on the offensive end, in the first half.
Jermaine Sanders, making his first career start for Cincinnati, connected on a pair of 3-pointers to put the Bearcats ahead 8-2.
A 3-pointer by Kilpatrick put Cincinnati ahead 13-3. At that point in the game, Marquette was just 1-for-11 shooting.
Kilpatrick's third 3-pointer made the score 25-9, extending a 10-0 run for the Bearcats. He led all scorers with 13 first-half points.
Tempers flared with 4:45 remaining in the first half when Gardner and UC's David Nyarsuk got tangled up. The officials sent both teams to the bench before ruling a double-technical foul on both players. Gardner earned the ire of UC fans who booed him often throughout the game.
Marquette shot just 17.9 percent in the first half before rallying. "If we play the way we did the last 20 minutes we'll have a chance to win every game," said Williams.
NOTES: An MRI showed no damage but Wright was held out of practice both Wednesday and Thursday. He watched pregame warm-ups on Saturday but did not participate. Cronin said following Saturday's game that Wright will continue to be evaluated daily. ... Bearcats sophomore forward Sanders made his first career start Saturday. ... Marquette's 13 points in the first half Saturday were a season low and fewest since scoring 20 in a 49-48 win over Georgetown on Jan. 5.