No. 22 Cincinnati sinks East Carolina
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin lost his voice in a game in which he saw his 22nd-ranked Bearcats struggle to get a 55-46 win over cold-shooting East Carolina on Sunday in an American Athletic Conference game in Greenville, N.C.
“Coach will definitely stress that we didn’t play up to our potential,” said associate head coach Larry Davis, who fielded questions after the game. “At least he’ll try to. He doesn’t have much of a voice left.”
Kyle Washington had 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots to lead the Bearcats (15-2, 5-0 AAC) while fellow guard Jacob Evans was the only other scorer in double figures with 10 points. Cincinnati shot only 32.8 percent from the field, including 16.7 percent from 3-point range.
East Carolina (9-10, 1-5) shot 25.4 percent from the field and 17.4 percent from beyond the arc. Freshmen guards Elijah Hughes and Jeremy Sheppard combined to score 31 points. They were 10 of 29 from the field and their teammates were 5 of 30.
Hughes led East Carolina with 18 points, 16 of them in the first half.
“I told our team that if they keep defending and rebounding like they did in this game, that lid will come off the basket and they will feel good when it does,” said East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo, who will undergo hip surgery Monday and be out indefinitely.
Assistant coach Michael Perry will assume Lebo’s responsibilities during his absence.
“We had great looks,” Lebo added. “I don’t think we’ve made back-to-back 3-pointers all month, but I want our guys to keep trying. The lid will come off.”
East Carolina appeared to have difficulty playing without junior guard B.J. Tyson, its leading scorer at 11.9 points per game. He is out indefinitely with a leg injury. He also leads the Pirates in assists (53) and steals (53).
Cincinnati made 15 of 17 free throws and outrebounded East Carolina 47-36 to help maintain its lead.
The Bearcats were led defensively by center Nysier Brooks’ five blocked shots. Guard Kevin Johnson had three steals for the Bearcats.
Forward Gary Clark had eight points and nine rebounds and guard Troy Caupain added eight points, all in the first half.
“We’re in a stretch of playing four games in 10 days,” Davis said. “It wasn’t pretty but we achieved our objective of coming in here and getting a win.”
Both teams mostly traded failed possessions in the second half. Cincinnati led by as many as 12 points and no fewer than six after halftime.
Hughes scored 16 of East Carolina’s 23 points in the first half. He made 5 of 10 shots from the field (3 of 7 from 3-point range) and his teammates were only 2 of 19. Sheppard scored the other seven points in the first half for the Pirates.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stat sheet as a coach where only two guys scored in the first half and both were freshmen,” Lebo said. “That’s interesting but our other guys must get involved.”
The Pirates shot only 24.1 percent from the floor, including 23.1 percent from beyond the arc, as the Bearcats built a 31-23 halftime lead.
Washington and Caupain nearly made as many shots as East Carolina in the first half. Washington and Caupain combined for 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor.
Cincinnati, which outrebounded East Carolina 25-16 in the first half, outscored the Pirates 10-2 in the last 3:44 of the half, with eight points from Caupain. East Carolina went 1 of 6 from the field with one turnover during that pivotal stretch.
NOTES: Cincinnati owns an 11-1 series lead over East Carolina. ... Senior G Caleb White is seven points shy of 1,400 for his career at East Carolina. He ranks sixth on the school’s career scoring list with 1,393. He needs 92 points to move into fifth place. ... Cincinnati’s eight-game win streak is its longest since a 15-game streak during the 2013-14 season. The Bearcats are off to their best start in conference play at 5-0 since winning their first 11 American Athletic Conference games during the 2013-14 season. ... East Carolina has 104 blocked shots after it finished the 2015-16 season with 64 total blocks. The Pirates led the AAC in total blocks and ranked 14th nationally before Sunday.