CINCINNATI – The American Athletic Conference regular-season champion and 8th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats started what they hope will be a long postseason run with an AAC tournament-opening 61-51 win over SMU Friday afternoon.
UC starter and Wilmington High School grad Jarron Cumberland was held scoreless after averaging 11.1 points per game during the regular season. However, the sophomore — who started every game this season — played an important role in Friday’s win with a team-high eight assists to go with five rebounds.
The now 28-4 Bearcats had earned the top seed in the 2018 Aaron’s American Championship and battled SMU (17-16) Friday after a bye on Thursday.
After a slow start against SMU that saw the Bearcats with only a one-point lead at the half, UC finally took control down the stretch.
Kyle Washington scored 15 points and Gary Clark added 12 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Bearcats.
UC also got 13 points from Cane Broome and rallied from a six-point second-half deficit to move on to the semifinals against Memphis, which won a buzzer-beater against Tulsa Friday.
It took Cincinnati nearly 35 minutes — and 10 misses — for the Bearcats to make a 3-pointer, but it proved the turning point. Cincinnati finished the game 2 of 14 on 3-pointers.
Broome made the first 3-pointer with 5:34 left in the game, then got fouled on his next 3-point attempt and made all three free throws. Clark connected from the corner for another 3-pointer and suddenly the Bearcats had a 57-47 lead with 3:27 left in the game.
A trey to start a 7-0 spurt by SMU gave the Mustangs their biggest lead, 38-32 with 15:27 left.
The Bearcats, however, converted four straight offensive rebounds and added a layup by Tre Scott to regain the lead 42-38 with just over 11 minutes to play.
Cincinnati hit only two perimeter shots in the first half, but still led 28-27 at the break thanks to eight offensive rebounds. Washington scored nine points, all in the paint, to keep Cincinnati afloat.