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Cincinnati outlasts Houston
CINCINNATI -- When push came to shove, the Cincinnati Bearcats turned to the usual suspects.
They were lucky one of them still was available.
Senior center Justin Jackson was hampered by fouls, but still scored 13 points, all in the second half, to help No. 23 Cincinnati shake off pesky Houston and pull out a 73-62 American Athletic Conference victory on Saturday at Fifth-Third Arena.
Senior guard Sean Kilpatrick led both teams with 28 points and six assists, one short of matching his season-high in both categories, and junior guard Ge'Lawn Guyn hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final four minutes as Cincinnati ended the game on a 18-5 run.
Jackson and Kilpatrick teamed up to score 32 of Cincinnati's 44 points in the second half to keep the Bearcats in the game until they could pull away.
"We're seniors," said Jackson, who was limited to 20 minutes by his foul problems. "This is our team. We know what we need to do to help the team win. In the last five or six minutes, we know we need to step it up."
The lead changed hands 22 times before Kilpatrick gave the Bearcats the lead for good on a driving layup with 6:30 left in the game. Jackson followed with a thunderous dunk on a feed from Kilpatrick as AAC-leading Cincinnati (23-3, 12-1 in the AAC) started to pull away.
Sophomore forward Shaquille Thomas also reached double figures with 11 points.
Freshman forward Danrad Knowles led Houston with 11 points. Sophomore guard L.J. Rose, sophomore forward Danuel House and junior forward TaShawn Thomas each added 10 for the Cougars, who have lost six of their last seven and eight of their last 10 games.
"I thought this was a great experience for us today, the way we had to execute to win this game in the second half," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said.
"Houston had a highly efficient offense until we were able to lock in late in the game and get some defensive stops. It was good to have to deal with that. It makes us a better team."
The game drew a sellout crowd of 13,176, Cincinnati's first capacity crowd since a 60-56 victory over Louisville on Feb. 23, 2012, when both teams were still in the Big East Conference.
"It was a sellout?" Kilpatrick responded when he heard that.
"Yes," somebody replied.
"Wow," Kilpatrick and Jackson said in unison.
"That's great," Kilpatrick added. "It shows the fans are getting excited. It shows they're behind us. That's huge."
The Bearcats were playing their first game since seeing their 15-game winning streak snapped with a 76-55 loss at Southern Methodist on Feb. 8.
That win propelled the Mustangs into the Associated Press Top 25. Cincinnati still led No. 13 Louisville going into the game.
The Cougars (12-13, 4-8) were coming off an 88-74 victory over Temple that snapped Houston's season-high five-game losing streak.
"I was proud of our team, but certainly, Cincinnati is deserving of being a top 10 team," Houston coach James Dickey said. "Kilpatrick, what a special player he is. I thought he was terrific in the second half. He made big plays and put the team on his back.
"Our guys competed. It was a three-point game with about 2 1/2 minutes to go and Guyn hit two threes off great penetration by Kilpatrick.
"When you look at it, both teams in the second half had trouble getting stops. They shoot 61 percent and we shoot 62 percent in the second half. We went through a stretch there in the last couple of minutes where we couldn't get a basket and they got more stops than we did, and that turned out to be the difference in the game."
The lead changed hands seven times in the first half.
Rose and Jherrod Stiggers each scored six points for Houston in the first half, and the Cougars rode a 9-1 run to the largest lead of the half for either team, 28-22, with 2:54 left before halftime.
Kilpatrick responded by scoring five points as the Bearcats ended the half with a 7-0 run for a 29-28 lead at intermission.
Kilpatrick finished the half with nine points, helping Cincinnati handle the absence of Jackson, who had no points or rebounds while being limited to five minutes with two fouls in the half.
The lead changed hands nine times in the first five minutes of the second half.
NOTES: Senior G Sean Kilpatrick, who was named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason Top 30 on Thursday, became only the third Bearcat in history to score at least 500 points in each of three consecutive seasons. Kilpatrick joined Basketball Hall-of-Famer Oscar Robertson, who was courtside, and Danny Fortson when he sank two free throws with 2:31 left in the first half. ... Houston junior F TaShawn Thomas saw his streak of consecutive games with at least one blocked shot snapped at 28. ... The Bearcats are scheduled to travel to Orlando to face Central Florida on Wednesday before their rematch with No. 13 Louisville next Saturday at noon in Cincinnati. Cincinnati beat the then-No. 12 Cardinals, 69-66, at Louisville on January 30. ... The road doesn't get much easier for the Cougars, who are scheduled to meet SMU in Dallas on Wednesday.