CINCINNATI (AP) The only thing that Mick Cronin mentioned to his team at halftime was defense. The 18th-ranked Bearcats got the message.
Jacob Evans III scored 13 of his 17 points while Cincinnati took control in the first half, and the Bearcats clamped down defensively in the second half and pulled away to an 80-60 victory over Tulsa on Saturday.
Cincinnati (24-3, 13-1 American Athletic) has won 24 straight on its home court, including a couple of close escapes this season. The Bearcats put this one away early in the second half, limiting Tulsa to two free throws in the first 6:47.
“In the second half, the kids made a concerted effort to do a much better job,” said Cronin, who got his 300th career coaching victory. “They didn’t score a whole lot in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Our defense was way, way better in the second half.”
Kyle Washington added 18 points for Cincinnati while Gary Clark had 14 points and eight rebounds.
Junior Etou scored 22 points for Tulsa (12-14, 6-8) , which has lost a season-high six in a row. The Golden Hurricane were only 6 of 16 from the field in the second half, a reflection of how much the Bearcats took Cronin’s halftime message to heart.
“He’s just worried about our defense and intensity and effort,” Washington said. “He really doesn’t get on us for mistakes. He gets on us for hustle. We make up for it by going 10 times harder.”
Washington had two baskets and a free throw during a 10-point run that put Cincinnati in control late in the first half. Evans made two free throws followed by a steal and a layup as Cincinnati pulled ahead 54-34 early in the second half. The Bearcats led by as many as 27 points.
“We weren’t physical enough to come in here and win that game,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said.
Tulsa: Offense has been the big issue during the Golden Hurricane’s losing streak. They have been held to 60 points or fewer five times in the six games.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ 24-game home winning streak is their third longest at Fifth Third Arena, which opened in 1989. They won 41 straight at home from 1997-2000, and 25 straight from 1992-94.
Cincinnati slipped from No. 11 after its 60-51 loss at SMU on Feb. 12. The Bearcats have won their two games since, including 68-54 at South Florida on Wednesday.
Cincinnati freshman guard Jarron Cumberland didn’t play because of a curfew violation. Cumberland averages 17 minutes and 7.3 points per game. He had scored double figures in three of the previous seven games.
CRONIN AT 300
The Bearcats honored Cronin on the court following his 300th career victory, giving him a commemorative basketball. He’s 231-132 in 11 seasons at Cincinnati.
“I’ve been fortunate,” Cronin said. “I’ve grown up around great coaches. I’ve been around what it takes to win.”
NOT MUCH HELP
Tulsa’s bench contributed only eight points. The Golden Hurricane’s bench had been averaging nearly 24 per game, accounting for 35.7 percent of their points.
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane host South Florida on Thursday. They won at South Florida 70-67 on Jan. 21.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats host Memphis on Thursday night. They split their series last season, with each team winning at home.