Sean Kilpatrick scored 25 points and Cashmere Wright chipped in with 15 as No. 11 Cincinnati jumped all over Xavier in the second half, winning the sanitized Crosstown Shootout, err Crosstown Classic, 60-45.
Xavier held a 24-19 lead in the final minutes of the 1st half, but the Bearcats cut that lead to 24-22 by the half and used a 17-4 run to open the second half as they built a double-digit lead. Cincinnati is the biggest, more athletic team, and they threw a press on Xavier that the Musketeers weren’t ready to handle.
Xavier never threatened again, but the biggest reason for that had less to do with what they were doing on the court as who they had on the bench. Semaj Christon, Chris Mack’s talented freshman point guard, was cramping so severely that he could barely walk off the court after the game. Dee Davis, Xavier’s other back court starter, had some of the same issues. He tried to play through them, but it was clear to anyone watching that he was running at about 50%.
And it’s a shame, really.
Because Xavier looked really good for the first 20 minutes. Granted, much of their early success was a result of Cincinnati’s lack of patience offensively, and the initial run Xavier made in the second half came with Davis and Christon on the floor. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Musketeers were the better team in the first half. They may not have erased that 11 point deficit, but it sure would have been a lot more interesting down the stretch if they were at full strength.
(A 3-14 performance from the charity stripe certainly didn’t help matter, either.)
As far as Cincinnati is concerned, they are who we thought they were. They’ve got athleticism to spare, they can be downright scary defensively, and when Kilpatrick and Wright are playing well, they can put a run on any team in the country.
This is a dangerous group. They have size, they have depth, they defend, they have star power in the back court, they have role players that buy-in to what Mick Cronin is selling, and they have a couple of talented bench players — Titus Rubles, for example — that can provide a scoring spark. That’s a good combination.
But the story of this game was the fact that it was the renewal of the Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry, the one that ended in fisticuffs and a bloodied Kenny Frease last year. This year, with a new name and a new venue — they played at an arena in downtown Cincinnati — the two schools were trying to prevent that kind of fight from ever happening again.
And it turned out well.
The great part about moving the game off campus is that now both fan bases can pack into the arena. And while that increases the risk of a fight breaking out in the stands, it makes for a super-charged atmosphere, one that came through for those of us watching the game couchside.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.