HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — Cincinnati showed that in a matchup of stingy defensive teams, a lot of effort overcomes a lot of missed shots.
Jacob Evans III scored 18 points, and Gary Clark had a big second half as the 19th-ranked Bearcats pulled away to a 76-56 victory over SMU on Sunday, extending the longest active home-court winning streak in the country.
The game matched the American Athletic Conference’s top defensive teams, and it showed in the first half as they went a combined 15-for-52 from the field and the Bearcats led 34-20.
“We’re not always pretty at times, but our effort’s tremendous and as a coach, you appreciate that,” Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin said.
Cincinnati (14-2, 3-0) broke it open with a 12-point run late in the first half featuring Evans’ 3-pointer. Clark scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half as the Bearcats finally got the ball inside and pushed the lead to 20. Instead of allowing SMU to double-team him, Clark started heading for the basket as soon as he got the ball.
“It was more me taking too long,” Clark said. “I’m allowing them to come and trap. In the second half once they got it to me, I was going.”
SMU (12-5, 2-2) shot only 35.7 percent from the field and had 18 turnovers that set up 26 of Cincinnati’s points. Jarrey Foster led the Mustangs with 16 points.
“Beyond frustrating,” SMU coach Tim Jankovich said. “It was as frustrating as any game I can remember in a number of years. Whenever you turn the ball over that many times and just play so sloppy, it’s just really hard.”
The Bearcats have won 35 straight home games on two courts. They’ve gone 9-0 while playing this season at BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University while their on-campus arena is renovated. They went 18-0 at Fifth Third Arena last season.
SMU: The Mustangs’ offense unraveled against Cincinnati’s match-up defense. They couldn’t get the ball inside — a typical possession involved passing around the perimeter and forcing one up as the shot clock wound down. SMU’s 20 first-half points were its fewest in any half this season.
“It’s digging in,” Cincinnati’s Evans said. “If we worry about defense and rebounding, we should be fine.”
Cincinnati: The Bearcats survived a poor shooting performance for a 55-53 win at Temple on Thursday, managing only three 3-pointers while shooting 39 percent from the field overall. They were even worse in the first half on Sunday, shooting 28 percent and managing only four points in the paint before Clark asserted himself.
Cincinnati point guard Cane Broome was back after missing two games with a sprained ankle. He played 12 minutes, missed all of his three shots, finished with three points off free throws, and had three turnovers and two assists.
Cincinnati led 34-20 at the end of a first half featuring horrid shooting — SMU 30 made percent from the field, UC 28 percent. It was the fewest points the Mustangs had scored in any half this season.
Cincinnati led the AAC in defense coming into the game, allowing 58.7 points on average. SMU was second at 59.8 points. The Bearcats were only the second team to score 76 points against SMU this season. The Mustangs’ worst defensive game was a 94-83 loss at TCU.
SMU AGAINST THE RANKED
The Mustangs are 2-2 against ranked teams this season. They’ve beaten Arizona and Southern California. They’ve lost to TCU and Cincinnati.
The Mustangs host Temple on Wednesday.
The Bearcats begin a two-game Florida swing, playing at South Florida on Saturday followed by a game at UCF on Tuesday.