CINCINNATI — Throughout this season, Cincinnati relied on guard Sean Kilpatrick and forward Justin Jackson for the bulk of its offensive output. Forward Titus Rubles is emerging as a third weapon just in time for the postseason.
On Thursday night, Kilpatrick scored 34 points, and Rubles added a career-high 24, lifting No. 15 Cincinnati to a 97-84 victory over No. 20 Memphis.
Seniors Jackson, Kilpatrick and Rubles played their final game at Fifth Third Arena on Thursday.
“I wanted to put on a show for my mom. It was her first time coming to a game,” Rubles said. “I just played with supreme confidence. My teammates knew tonight was a big day for me. They got me the ball when I was open. They looked out for me.”
The Bearcats kept alive their hopes of winning the American Athletic Conference title in the league’s inaugural season. To earn the top seed in the AAC tournament, Cincinnati (25-5, 14-3) needs to win at Rutgers and have Louisville lose at home to Connecticut on Saturday.
“It would mean a lot,” Kilpatrick said of winning a league title. “It’s an accomplishment. It’s something our seniors deserve.”
Cincinnati got a scare when Jackson left the game after a hard foul by Tigers forward Austin Nichols with 17:42 left. Jackson returned less than three minutes later after receiving treatment on his right shoulder.
“It went out of place,” said Jackson, who finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, three steals, three assists and two blocks.
Memphis (22-8, 11-6) was led by senior guard Joe Jackson, who scored 21 points. Guard Michael Dixon Jr. scored 19 points, and Nichols added 17 for the Tigers.
Nichols, a freshman, guarded Rubles most of the night, and the Bearcats exploited what coach Mick Cronin dubbed a mismatch. Rubles shot 9-for-13 from the floor and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.
“Austin was great offensively but not good defensively,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “He’s got to get better. He wasn’t effective today.”
The Tigers went 7-for-16 from 3-point range in the second half but couldn’t get over the hump. They finished 9-for-27 from behind the arc, with Crawford and Dixon each hitting three 3s.
“They came on late, but it’s just going to be a struggle for us when we aren’t making some 3s,” Pastner said. “I loved the way we played from start to finish. We battled and competed. Give Cincinnati credit.”
The Bearcats were efficient throughout the game with 13 assists and only three turnovers. They committed a total of 33 turnovers in the previous two games, both losses.
“The whole thing is about taking your time,” Cronin said. “Be strong with the ball and do the simple things.”
Memphis trailed by six points at halftime but began the second half with a 7-2 run, highlighted by guard Chris Crawford’s 3-pointer, to make it a one-point game
Kilpatrick’s layup capped an 8-0 run that gave the Bearcats a 13-point lead.
Guard Troy Caupain’s lob to Rubles for a dunk made the score 60-49 with fewer than 11 minutes remaining.
Memphis, which scored a season-low 53 points in its loss to the Bearcats in January, committed seven turnovers in the first six minutes Thursday.
Cincinnati went on a 14-0 run to build an 18-4 lead.
Memphis responded with a 9-1 run to keep the score close.
A dunk by Tigers forward Shaq Goodwin resulted in a three-point play, cutting the Bearcats’ lead to 19-13.
Memphis was 0-for-9 from 3-point range before hitting its next two attempts to cut the Bearcats’ advantage to 38-32 at halftime.
Jackson had a dominant first half with 11 points, five rebounds, three steals and a block. Kilpatrick scored 12 first-half points, and Nichols led all scorers with 13 points before the break.
Cincinnati’s senior trio of Kilpatrick, Jackson and Rubles finished the night with 71 points and zero turnovers.
“One of the officials came by and said he had officiated Cincinnati six times this year and never seen Rubles play like that,” Pastner said.
NOTES: The 97 points were the most for the Bearcats since Dec. 23, when they scored 102 in a win over Chicago State. … Bearcats G Sean Kilpatrick will
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