NICEVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin says he doesn’t believe in revenge, so just call it turnabout is fair play.
Cronin’s Bearcats, led by Jarron Cumberland’s 25 points, won the Emerald Coast Classic championship by defeating Mississippi 71-57 on Saturday night. Cincinnati had lost the 2014 title game to the Rebels in the tournament’s first year.
Respect for first-year Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis erased vengeance from Cronin’s thought process.
“I don’t believe in that at all,” he said. “You know, Kermit’s a good friend of mine. My respect for him as a coach is as high as anybody in the country. What he did at Middle Tennessee was unbelievable and, given time, what he’s going to do at Ole Miss is going to be awesome.”
The Rebels looked pretty awesome in the first half and early in the second before the Bearcats took control with a stifling defense.
Cincinnati (5-1) squandered a 13-point first half lead before roaring back.
“Every team, they’re going to make their runs, but we’ve just got to stay calm and play our game,” said Cumberland, who was named the tournament’s outstanding player.
The 6-foot-5 junior guard was deadly from the charity stripe, making 13 of 14 free throws although he hit only five of 17 shots from the field. No other Bearcats scored in double figures.
Devontae Shuler led Mississippi (4-2) with 24 points and Breein Tyree added 14.
Keith Williams broke a 7-7 tie with a 3 pointer that launched a 12-2 run and gave Cincinnati a 10 point lead at 19-9. The Bearcats eventually got the lead up to 13 and maintained a double-digit advantage until the last three minutes of the half. Ole Miss went on a 9-2 run to narrow the gap to 37-33 at the half including a Shuler 3 pointer at the buzzer.
The Rebels opened the second half with an 8-3 run to tie the score at 41-all. The Bearcats responded with a 14-2 run to get the lead back to double digits and never looked back.
“We only gave up 24 points in the second half ‘cause our guys really were in tune with what Ole Miss was trying to run against us as much as the coaches were,” Cronin said. “And when you do that you get better defensively as the game goes on and that’s how you win games — second half defense.”
Davis said his team never was able to overcome its slow start.
“I thought they were a lot more physical than we were,” he said. “They moved the ball, we didn’t move the ball. We just got beat by a better team tonight.”
Cumberland said the Bearcats hope the tournament title will be a stepping stone to more success as the season unfolds.
“It means a lot because it’s one of the first ones,” he said. “We’re looking ahead of us and ready for the (American Athletic) conference tournament and the NCAA tournament, too.”
Officials at the tournament, hosted by Northwest Florida State College, also announced that next year’s Emerald Coast Classic will feature Florida State, Purdue, Tennessee and Virginia Commonwealth.