Cincinnati needs to find an offensive threat in the paint, and quickly

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Just five days after seeing their undefeated record get tarnished by Nate Wolters and South Dakota State, New Mexico went into Cincinnati and did the same to the Bearcats in a thrilling game.

The game-winning jumper came from Tony Snell with 2:28 left on the clock, when he answered a Cashmere Wright three by putting the Lobos up 55-54. Neither team would score again the rest of the night.

Alex Kirk was the star for the Lobos. The 6-foot-11 sophomore is finally healthy this season after sitting out last year due to surgical procedure he had on his back. He finished with 15 points, seven boards and three blocks, throwing down a couple of dunks in traffic and attacking the offensive glass with the kind of reckless abandon that made you wonder if he had forgotten about his back surgery.

In short, Kirk walked into the house of the undefeated No. 8 team in the country and proceeded to start pushing people around.

And it worked.

Because if we learned anything tonight, it’s that Mick Cronin’s club is going to have to learn how to play a whole lot more physical if they are going to have a shot of competing with Syracuse and Louisville at the top of the Big East. The Bearcats were 11-26 from beyond the arc on Thursday night, and they lost. While scoring 54 points. That barely seems possible, but when you consider that the Bearcats shot 9-38 from two-point range — with what seemed like two-thirds of those shots coming around the rim — while earning all of four free throws, it starts to make some sense.

In fact, Cincy’s lack of physicality did more than simply keep them off of the free throw line and keep them under 25% shooting from inside the arc. It also meant that, with 15.7 seconds left, the Lobos still had two fouls to give. That’s why New Mexico was able to run the clock down to 4.5 seconds and force Cincinnati into an out-of-bounds play under the basket for their shot at winning the game.

And, of course, the shot they got was a contested three off the dribble from Sean Kilpatrick, which just so happened to be blocked by Kirk.

A fitting end, you might say.

The Bearcats cannot survive as an elite team without a scoring presence in the paint. They’ll win a lot of games — that’s what happens when you have a back court as good as Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright and a roster stocked with as much athleticism as Cronin has as his disposal — but winning a lot of games and beating a lot of good teams is a different story.

Having the talent to make the second weekend and entering the tournament as a legitimate Final Four contender are two completely different things. Unless Mick Cronin finds a way to get one of his big men the ability to finish around the rim as a belated Christmas gift — or dig up some loophole to get Yancy Gates eligible again this season — the most talented team in the Cronin-era won’t be going all that far.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Carsen Edwards scores 40 points, No. 9 Purdue beats Illinois 93-86

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Carsen Edwards scored career-high 40 points and Dakota Mathias added 18 to help No. 9 Purdue outlast Illinois in a 93-86 victory on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers were without their second-leading scorer Vincent Edwards but had no problem scoring.

Purdue shot 58.3 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Edwards and Mathias each had four from behind the arc.

There were eight lead changes in the first half, highlighted by two big runs. With just under 10 minutes left Edwards stole the ball and went down for a huge dunk to spark a 17-6 run for the Boilermakers. The Illini responded with a 10-3 run to close out the half trailing 43-38.

Illinois stayed within striking distance the rest of the game, but ultimately Purdue’s size and Edwards scoring were too much. The sophomore scored 25 of his points in the second half, including a monstrous dunk on Trent Frazier with just under seven minutes to play.

The Boilermakers also outrebounded the Illini 33-20.

Leron Black led Illinois with 28 points, notching his fourth-consecutive 20-point game.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois continues to struggle in close games. The Illini have now lost 10 games this season by single digits.

After losing three straight games, Purdue has reestablished itself in the Big Ten with two close victories over Penn State and Illinois. The Boilermakers are one win away from tying the second most victories in school history.

Clark scores 17 as No. 11 Cincy rebounds, beats UConn 77-52

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — The Bearcats had three days to stew, and it showed when they took the court.

Gary Clark scored 10 of his 17 points during Cincinnati’s decisive opening spurt, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats shook off consecutive losses by beating short-handed Connecticut 77-52 on Thursday night for their fifth straight win over the Huskies.

The Bearcats (24-4, 13-2 American Athletic) recovered from a loss at Houston that ended their 16-game winning streak and a 76-72 loss to Wichita State that snapped their 39-game winning streak at home. They play back-to-back games against conference also-rans before finishing at Wichita State on March 4, a rematch that could decide the league title.

“Coming off two losses, you’ve got to come out with hunger,” Clark said. “Our season’s on the line. We’ve just got to try to get momentum going into the tournament and all of that.”

Clark had 10 points as Cincinnati surged ahead 34-19. The Bearcats got a lot of open shots against UConn’s zone defense and made 12 of their first 18 attempts. They led by double digits the rest of the way, a pleasing outcome after those two losses.

“Coach has been challenging us as a team and as individuals,” said Cane Broome, who had 13 points. “We can get better in certain areas. It’s not about this game; it’s for the rest of the season.”

The Huskies (13-15, 6-9) struggle on offense and were missing top scorer Jalen Adams, who was sick. Adams averages 17.8 points and 4.5 assists per game.

Christian Vital scored 15 points and Terry Larrier had 14 for the Huskies, who shot 29.5 percent from the field against the nation’s second-stingiest defense. Cincinnati dominated inside, getting 33 points in the paint while allowing only 16.

“The game plan was being unselfish and shortening the game, and I thought we took some bad shots that led to run-outs for them,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “I don’t care if it’s anyone playing — if it’s the walk-ons playing — you have to follow the game plan.”

Despite the score, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin wasn’t pleased with his team’s defense. The Bearcats gave up a lot of open shots that the short-handed Huskies missed.

“Those same shots got us beat the last two games,” Cronin said. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near where I need to get our team defensively, and that’s just the truth.”

BIG PICTURE

Connecticut: The Huskies have lost eight of 11 as the season winds down, matching their conference loss total from a year ago. They went 16-17 overall and 9-9 in the AAC last season.

Cincinnati: After the loss to Wichita State, Cronin bemoaned his team’s defensive breakdowns and rebounding. Cincinnati’s defense and rebounding were still an issue, though not as glaring. UConn got eight offensive rebounds in the first half while outrebounding the Bearcats 19-18.

T TIME

Cincinnati’s Nysier Brooks and UConn’s Kwintin Williams got technical fouls in the first half. Williams committed a foul as Brooks went up for a dunk, and they exchanged words. It was Williams’ third foul, landing him on the bench. Cronin also got one for complaining about calls with 4:28 left and Cincinnati up by 25 points.

NO 3-PEAT

UConn made a season-high 13 3-pointers and shot 58 percent overall during an 84-80 win at East Carolina on Sunday. The Huskies lost their touch against the Bearcats, going 6 of 22 from beyond the arc. Larrier missed all five of his 3-point tries.

ONE-SIDED

Cincinnati’s five straight wins against the Huskies are their most in the series. They’ve also won seven of eight.

NO HELP

UConn got only five points off its bench. Cincinnati had 40 from its non-starters.

“When people ask what’s going to get us farther in March, it’s our bench,” Clark said.

CBT Podcast: Michael Porter Jr is back, Duke and Kentucky might be back, Allonzo Trier’s gone

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Fun episode today. Rob Dauster was joined by one of the up-and-coming stars at ESPN, Dalen Cuff, to talk through the changes that Duke and Kentucky have made in recent weeks and whether or not that changes our perception of those teams moving forward. They also discussed Trae Young’s regression as well as the root of their soccer fandom, and all of that happened roughly 90 minutes before news broke that Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. was cleared by doctors to play while Arizona’s Allonzo Trier was once against ineligible for a positive PED test, so Travis Hines of NBC Sports jumped on the podcast to talk through all of that. The rundown:

OPEN: Should Michael Porter Jr. play this season?

10:05: Did Allonzo Trier get screwed by the NCAA?

16:55: Why did Dalen Cuff sully his name by becoming an Arsenal fan?

26:20: Why has Duke been better without Marvin Bagley III?

34:05: Is Jarred Vanderbilt the key to unlock Kentucky’s potential?

39:25: Have you changed your outlook on Duke or Kentucky in the long-term?

43:45: Texas Tech losing Keenan Evans was a bummer.

48:00: So let’s talk about this Trae Young slump.

Drexel sets Division I record with 34-point comeback

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A Drexel basket brought the score to an innocuous 5-3 in the first two minutes of its game against Delaware. The next 38 minutes were a lot more interesting.

The Blue Hens went on a 48-16 run to take a 34-point first-half lead on the Blue Hens, only to cough it up as Dragons outscored them 66-30 the rest of the way to complete the largest comeback in Division I history in an 85-83 victory.

The 34-point comeback tops the previous record of 32 by Duke on Dec. 30, 1950. That’s more than 67 years ago, for those keep score at home.

Delaware had a win probability of at least 99 percent for about 11 minutes in the middle of the game, but still lost.

Drexel shot 56.8 percent from the floor and 53.8 percent from 3-point range after halftime and got 29 points from Tramaine Isabell.

After shooting 61 percent from the floor in the first half, Delaware connected at just a 37.9 percent clip after the break.

The great thing about college basketball is you can get a historic performance out of Drexel and Delaware on a random Thursday night. And it’s not even March.

Allonzo Trier ruled ineligible by NCAA; Arizona appealing

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Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier has been declared ineligible by the NCAA due to a second positive test for a banned substance, it was announced Thursday. The school is appealing the decision, claiming the positive test was leftover from of a substance that was found in Trier’s system in 2016.

Trier was tested in late January and the test “revealed the reappearance of a trace amount of a banned substance,” Arizona said in a statement. “The amount detected was miniscule by scientific standards and appears to be a remnant of a substance, which the NCAA agreed, Allonzo had unknowingly taken in 2016.

“The University is appealing the decision and is hopefully that Allonzo will regain his eligibility soon.”

This is a potential massive blow for a Wildcats team that began the season as one of the top national championship contenders, but has spent much of this season dealing with disappointment and distraction, from their part in the FBI corruption investigation to inconsistency on the floor and now this regarding one of its top players.

Trier is averaging 19.6 points and shooting 54.1 percent from the floor, including 43 percent from the 3-point range.

The Wildcats play at Oregon State tonight and at Oregon Saturday before finishing the regular season at home against Stanford and Cal.

Attention will now turn to the NCAA appeals process – how quickly can it move and what determination will it make? Trier’s status will impact one of the most talented teams in the country, which by extension means it will impact the national championship race next month.

For a team that’s been in the center of controversy all season, and somehow has added another layer to a wild season.