CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bearcats were coming off their most impressive win. One overmatched opponent was left before the holiday break. They ground out a win so ragged that they felt a need to apologize afterward.
Nysier Brooks had a career-high 17 points and eight rebounds, and Cincinnati relied heavily upon its reserves Saturday while pulling away to a 77-56 victory over South Carolina State.
The Bearcats (11-2) were coming off a 93-64 win over UCLA on Wednesday night in front of a raucous home crowd. The Bearcats dominated every phase while sending the Bruins to their most lopsided defeat in nearly four years.
They ground out a low-energy win on Saturday with their starters playing limited roles as coach Mick Cronin got his reserves some experience.
“Really disappointed in most of our guys,” Cronin said.
The Bulldogs (2-13) cut a 23-point deficit to 12 in the second half, taking advantage of Cincinnati’s poor shooting against their 1-3-1 zone defense. The Bearcats missed their first eight shots from beyond the arc in the half, and South Carolina State made it competitive. Janai Raynor Powell led the Bulldogs with 15 points.
“I don’t know any other team, maybe outside of Texas Southern, that’s played 13 out of 15 games on the road against the competition we’ve played against,” coach Murray Garvin said. “We were just in the locker room and I just commended the guys for their effort.”
Jarron Cumberland hit back-to-back 3s to blunt the comeback, and then hit another as Cincinnati pulled away in the closing minutes. He finished with 12 points.
“We had a lot of game slippage today,” Brooks said. “It was kind of embarrassing. We apologize to our fans. They came out to see us play a good game. It was 20 points, but it wasn’t a pretty 20. It was sloppy.”
The Bearcats enter American Athletic Conference play with only two losses, an encouraging sign for a team that lost three starters from last season.
“We’ve got a couple of things we need to tighten up on, and we’re going to tighten up on, on offense and defense,” said Trevor Moore, who added 10 points. “I feel very good about us going into conference play right now.”
South Carolina State was only 5 of 25 from the field in the first half, when it fell behind by 23 points.
Cincinnati took advantage of the chance to get playing time for its reserves. Coach Mick Cronin used 11 players in the first 7 minutes. Cumberland, the Bearcats’ leading scorer, played only 7 minutes in the first half and took one shot. He had 25 points against UCLA.
“Today I wanted to coach them, get them minutes as much as I can, get them experience,” Cronin said of the reserves.
0-FOR-4 VS. BUCKEYE STATE
With the loss, South Carolina State fell to 0-4 against Ohio teams this season. The Bulldogs also have lost to Cleveland State, Ohio State, and 79-55 to Miami in Oxford, Ohio on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs and Bearcats have met only one other time. Cincinnati won 108-84 on Dec. 31, 1988 at the Cincinnati Gardens.
PERFECT VS MEAC
Cincinnati is 24-0 all-time against current members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. They got their first win this season over North Carolina Central, 73-51 on Nov. 13.
Cronin has been urging Moore to keep his confidence after missing a shot. The sophomore guard was 4 of 10 from the field Saturday, including 2 of 8 from beyond the arc.
“When Trevor Moore misses one, he looks like someone stole his dog out of his backyard,” Cronin said. “That’s how I see his body language change. I’ve got to get that changed because he can really help us.”
South Carolina State hosts Presbyterian on Jan. 2.
Cincinnati hosts Tulane on Jan. 2.
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