CINCINNATI — Despite playing through illness, Cincinnati senior guard Sean Kilpatrick responded with big shots when they were needed most, scoring 10 of the final 12 points to seal a hard-fought 14th consecutive victory.
Kilpatrick scored 18 points and senior forward Justin Jackson added 15 points and three blocked shots, lifting No. 13 Cincinnati past upset-minded South Florida 50-45 Sunday.
“Playing under the weather is terrible,” Kilpatrick said. “When it’s late (in the game) like that, my teammates find me. They get me a chance to get the fouls and get me the free throws. Being a senior, I’m just trying to do my job.”
Freshman forward Chris Perry scored 13 points and senior forward Victor Rudd added 10 for the Bulls.
Cincinnati (21-2, 10-0 American Athletic Conference) extended its home winning streak to 17.
“This was bigger than (Thursday’s victory at No. 12 Louisville), I think,” Jackson said. “Coming off a big win like that everybody thinks you’re going to let up and take the ‘L’ at home. We’re trying to show the world that we’re trying to win and be the best team we can be.”
South Florida (11-11, 2-7) was one for 11 from 3-point range and has dropped six of its past eight games.
“I am encouraged,” said USF coach Stan Heath. “I see major improvement in the last two games. We won against SMU and grinded this game down to the wire in the last two or three minutes against Cincinnati, who is the number one team (in the conference).”
Kilpatrick overcame a cold-shooting day to make some big points down the stretch. He was five of 16 from the field, two of eight from 3-point range, but finished six for six from the free-throw line.
“Maybe the most underrated great player who played here,” UC coach Mick Cronin said of Kilpatrick. “He’s clearly the player of the year in this league. But he hasn’t gotten the attention.”
In the first five minutes it appeared the Bearcats were intent on avoiding a letdown coming off Thursday’s emotional win at Louisville.
UC forced a couple turnovers, including a 10-second violation, and was crashing the offensive boards.
Guard Ge’Lawn Guyn’s deep 3-pointer gave Cincinnati a 9-2 lead. Guyn finished with eight points.
USF forward Zach LeDay beat the shot-clock buzzer with a long 3-pointer, giving the Bulls their first lead, 14-13.
Jackson hit his first four shots and had nine points by halftime.
It was an expeditious first half in which just seven personal fouls were called with just five free-throw attempts.
Cincinnati committed just one turnover in the half and led 24-18 at halftime.
The Bulls did not go quietly, however, shooting 43 percent in the second half to make the score close.
“We just had to make adjustments at halftime,” Heath said. “We were taking too long to bring the ball up against their pressure.”
Perry’s layup off an assist from Rudd finished off a 7-0 run to put USF ahead 27-26 with 14 minutes left.
“Not a surprise the way the game was played,” Cronin said. “I give South Florida credit. They are a tough matchup for us. If we don’t turn them over … their size and athleticism gives us problems.”
Senior forward Titus Rubles briefly stemmed the tide with a three-point play, putting UC up 34-29.
Perry’s jumper then capped an 8-0 Bulls run to put them ahead 39-36 with 7:18 remaining.
Jackson banked in a shot to put Cincinnati ahead 42-41.
Allen Jr.’s lob to center John Egbunu for a dunk got the Bulls within two points with less than two minutes left. But, Kilpatrick helped Cincinnati hang on.
With Sunday’s victory, the Bearcats likely will move into the Associated Press top 10 this week.
“We’re still going to play with a chip on our shoulder like we have all year,” Kilpatrick said. “The number next to our name just means there’s a bigger bulls-eye on us. We have to come out with a better effort every night.”
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