NCAA News Wire

Cincinnati claims share of AAC title

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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 (25-6, 15-3 in the AAC) of at least a share of the conference title and represented Cronin’s best season at the school.

“In fairness to voters I don’t know if I would have ranked us either,” Cronin admitted. “For certain programs you get ranked no matter what.

“But I don’t know if our respect was there yet. Maybe next year we’ll be ranked because we’re Cincinnati and it’s expected.”

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.

“I can’t root against Louisville,” Cronin said. “I love coach Pitino so much. I’m a big believer in not rooting against people, especially your friends. It’s just negative energy.”

Senior shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati for the 17th straight game with 24 points and forward Justin Jackson added 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Senior swingman J.J. Moore led Rutgers (11-20, 5-13) with 19 points, and forward Kadeem Jack contributed 15 points and 12 rebounds. The Scarlet Knights, who received the seventh seed in the conference tournament, ended the regular season by dropping six of its last seven games.

Cronin’s team heads into the AAC conference tournament in Memphis next week battle tested after playing their second game in 36 hours.

The Bearcats, who didn’t go through their usual walk-through and shoot-around before the Rutgers game to conserve energy, defeated Memphis, 97-84, on Thursday.

Cronin received 25 points from his reserves and used nine players, all of whom scored.

“Our guys were tired after what we went through at home (against Memphis) with the emotional highs and the adrenaline (of senior night),” Cronin said.

“I told Jermaine Lawrence and Jermaine Sanders and Kevin Johnson, ‘Guys, we’re going to need some other guys today.’ The seniors aren’t going to be able to carry us today.”

That trio accounted for 18 points off Cincinnati bench.

The Bearcats 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 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, including a layup for the final score with 17 seconds to play.

“First of all, they have a terrific player (Kilpatrick) who could be a pro,” Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. “He took the game on that final drive.

“On that timeout, we said there’s not going to be anything tricky. It’s just going to be a straight line drive, its either going to be a post up, a straight line drive or someone coming off of multiple screens to catch and shoot.

“If I was a betting man I would think it would be a drive, but they spread the floor and a great player will have an advantage.”

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 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