CINCINNATI (AP) Mick Cronin suspected his Cincinnati Bearcats could be “devastating” when they’re on target with their shots.
They proved him correct Saturday.
Senior Kevin Johnson scored a career-high 18 points and No. 25 Cincinnati shot a blistering 64.7 percent from the field while rolling to the highest-scoring game of Cronin’s 11-year career as the Bearcats coach, 119-68 over Fairleigh Dickinson.
Johnson was surprised at the rout.
“They’re a good team,” he said of the Knights, an NCAA Tournament First Four team last season. “They were picked to win their conference (in a coaches’ poll) and they have two all-league players. We try not to underestimate any opponent. Really, it’s not about them. It’s more about us. We go into games trying to smother opponents. It was awesome. I felt like we just got into a good rhythm, offensively and defensively.”
Jacob Evans added 17 points and five other Bearcats reached double figures as Cincinnati (9-2) bettered it previous season-high margin of victory for the second straight game, a 38-point romp over Texas Southern on Tuesday.
“I’ve felt like if Jacob and Kevin can get going from the perimeter, we had a chance to get better,” Cronin said. “We can be a devastating team when we shoot the ball.”
Stephan Jiggetts scored 24 points to lead the Knights (2-9), who have lost seven straight and eight of nine. They committed 22 turnovers while connecting on just 20 field goals.
“I talked to Mick and his staff after the game and just kiddingly they said they don’t even shoot that well in practice, so hats off,” FDU coach Greg Herenda said. “Cincinnati has a really, really good team. Obviously today they were firing on all cylinders. They shot it, they shared it, they guarded. They were just too big and too good for us today.”
Johnson also had three steals, leading a Cincinnati defense that produced 13 takeaways. The Bearcats finished with more than 50 deflections, Cronin said, at least 10 more than the goal of 40 they take into every game.
“We’ve never lost when we get 40 deflections,” Cronin said..
Johnson matched his career high by halftime, scoring 15 points as the Bearcats built a 41-point lead before settling for a 65-26 halftime advantage. Evans also scored 15 points in the first half.
That was the most points for Cincinnati in any half since scoring 68 in the first half against DePaul on Feb. 5, 1998.
Cincinnati took the lead for good after Mike Holloway was whistled for a flagrant foul with 17:02 left in the first half. Evans made two free throws and Troy Caupain scored to complete a four-point possession that snapped a 6-6 tie.
Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights committed 15 first-half turnovers, three shy of matching their season high, allowing Cincinnati to build a 22-5 advantage in points off turnovers.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats shot 67.6 percent from the field (23 of 34), including 6 of 11 from 3-point range while scoring 65 points in the first half, just four shy of tying the program record for first-half points, set against North Texas State in the 1957-58 during the Oscar Robertson era.
Cincinnati’s 119 points set a record for a team in the American Athletic Conference, which is in its fourth season and is the fifth-highest total in program history.
Cincinnati will likely move up after winning two games by big scores this week, especially after No. 21 Notre Dame lost 86-81 to 15th-ranked Purdue on Saturday.
After three straight road games, Fairleigh Dickinson returns home to play a Northeast Conference game on Dec. 29 against Saint Francis (Pa.).
Cincinnati remains home to face Marshall on Thursday before traveling to Philadelphia on Dec. 28 for its American Athletic Conference opener against Temple.