PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Not much was expected from the Cincinnati Bearcats in their first season in the American Athletic Conference.
Coach Mick Cronin’s team received only one vote in a preseason poll and was picked to finish fourth in the conference.
However, a 70-66 victory over Rutgers on Saturday before 6,650 at the Rutgers Athletic Center assured No. 15 Cincinnati (26-5, 15-3 in the AAC) of at least a share of the conference title and represented Cronin’s best season at the school.
The Bearcats entered the final regular season conference game in a tie with Louisville. The Bearcats and the Cardinals were in the Big East Conference last year.
Senior shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati for the 17th straight game with 24 points.
Senior swingman J.J. Moore led Rutgers (11-20, 5-13) with 19 points and forward Kadeem Jack contributed 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Cronin’s team heads into the AAC conference tournament in Memphis next week battle tested, but couldn’t put away scrappy Rutgers until late in the game.
The Scarlet Knights, who will move into the Big Ten next season had a 64-63 lead with 3:11 left to play, but Justin Jackson’s layup with 1:45 to play and Kilpatrick’s traditional three-point play with 1:08 to go provided the Bearcats with a 68-64 edge.
Kilpatrick scored the Bearcats five final points of the game.
The Bearcats led, 50-42, with 14 minutes to play, but Rutgers clawed back to tie it, 54-54, at the 9:06 mark.
Cincinnati trailed for most of the first part of the opening half, then rallied for a 35-28 cushion. Kilpatrick netted 10 points and Justin Jackson added eight points and seven rebounds.
Moore paced Rutgers with nine points.
Kilpatrick got off to a slow start, but ended on a high note, scoring all of the Bearcats’ nine points in a 3:17 span, which moved their lead to 32-24 at the 3:22 mark.
Cincinnati went on a 14-2 burst to take a 19-15 lead with 8:00 to play in the half. The Bearcats did so without the benefit of Kilpatrick, who failed to make any of his five shots. He made his first shot, a 3-pointer that gave the Bearcats a 26-18 advantage, with 5:19 remaining.
The Bearcats missed their first seven shots of the game, finally scoring with almost four minutes elapsed. They went on another drought, failing to sink a shot in almost three minutes as Rutgers took a 13-5 lead with 12:12 remaining in the half.
NOTES: Cincinnati G Sean Kilpatrick is 19th in the nation in scoring at 20.3 points per game. … The Bearcats rank third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 57.2 points per game. … Rutgers’ last victory over a ranked opponent came on Jan. 5, 2013, against No. 24 Pittsburgh. … Rutgers is 0-7 this season against ranked teams.
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