No. 21 Xavier wins on boards to beat No. 11 Cincinnati
CINCINNATI — Xavier coach Chris Mack showed up at practice this week wearing a No. 19 baseball jersey, representing the 19 offensive rebounds his team gave up in last year’s loss to Cincinnati.
“It was glaring on the stat sheet,” Mack said. “I wanted to continue to send the message, so I thought that would be an appropriate way to come to practice, with 19 on my chest.”
Trevon Bluiett scored 28 points and Kerem Kanter added 17 off the bench, lifting No. 21 Xavier to an 89-76 victory over No. 11 Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout on Saturday at Cintas Center.
After being dominated on the boards, particularly on the offensive end in last year’s loss at Cincinnati, Xavier reversed course on Saturday, out-rebounding the Bearcats 45-37 with a 19-5 advantage in second-chance points.
The Musketeers had 13 offensive boards, to nine for the Bearcats.
“I failed miserably with our big guys,” said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. “We got out-rebounded by 17. I don’t care who you play ... you’re not going to win. We got physically beat.”
The win capped a big week for Xavier (7-1), which was coming off a 13-point win over No. 16 Baylor on Tuesday. XU also won at Wisconsin last month.
Kanter, a transfer from Wisconsin-Green Bay playing in his first “Shootout,” had been challenged by Mack for playing timid. He produced the best game in his Xavier career against one of the most physical teams the Musketeers will face.
“We were the hungrier team,” Kanter said.
Jacob Evans III led Cincinnati (7-1) with 23 points, Cane Broome had 16 and Jarron Cumberland scored 14 of his 15 points in the second half.
The Bearcats’ defense gave the Musketeers fits in the second half. Xavier has had issues with turnovers at times this season and it committed 15 on Saturday, nine in the second half.
“We pressured in the first half but we didn’t put enough pressure on the ball,” Evans said.
In last year’s matchup at Fifth Third Arena, the Bearcats scored 30 points off offensive rebounds in an 86-78 victory. That frontcourt advantage was expected to be in UC’s favor again on Saturday, but Xavier asserted itself inside early in the game.
Bluiett who was limited to 10 points in the win over Baylor due to a sore back, hit his first 3-pointer on Saturday to put the Musketeers ahead 9-1.
“We came out soft,” Evans said. “We weren’t ready for everything. We took ourselves out of the game early and dug too big of a hole.”
The Bearcats’ first field goal came with 15:14 left in the first half on Gary Clark’s 3-pointer. Clark finished with 14 points.
Sean O’Mara’s layup put Xavier ahead 15-5, prompting a UC timeout. At that point, XU was outscoring the Bearcats 12-0 in the paint.
“We wanted it bad,” Bluiett said. “After last year, we had this game marked on the calendar. We got punked (on the boards) last year. We wanted to get on the glass and get those 50-50 balls.”
Xavier’s lead grew to 21-5 on Bluiett’s second 3-pointer. Kanter drained a pair of 3s during a personal 8-0 run, putting XU ahead 29-13.
The Musketeers led by as many as 17 points in the half. They took a 43-30 lead into halftime behind 13 points from Bluiett.
Xavier began the second half with a 12-4 run. J.P. Macura’s layup pushed the Musketeers’ lead to 55-34.
The Bearcats’ pressure defense sparked a run midway through the second half, as UC cut a 23-point lead to 14 with fewer than eight minutes remaining.
But Cincinnati couldn’t complete the comeback to avoid its first loss.
Following the game, Macura, who had seven points and three assists, got into a shouting match with Cronin and both had to be restrained, adding further fuel to a fierce rivalry that included an ugly brawl in 2011.
“The narrative is not going to be J.P. Macura and Mick Cronin,” Mack said. “I don’t want the narrative to be anything other than us playing better than Cincinnati, and beating Cincinnati.”
NOTES: Xavier has won four of the past five meetings, eight of 11, and 15 of the previous 22. ... The Musketeers have won 35 straight nonconference home games dating to the 2012-13 season, including seven straight against the Bearcats. ... Cincinnati leads 50-35 in the all-time series, which dates to 1928. ... The Bearcats’ schedule toughens in December, beginning with Xavier, then games against No. 6 Florida and at UCLA.