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Minges cakewalk fails to materialize for Bearcats


    Postgame Audio: Herrion, Rouse, Cook
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Cincinnati's Jihad Muhammad (13) dishes off the ball while being defended by East Carolina's Japhet McNeil (10). [AP Photo: Karl DeBlaker]

By The Associated Press

GREENVILLE — This was not the way Bob Huggins wanted Cincinnati to head into a difficult stretch of the schedule.

Jason Maxiell had 24 points and eight rebounds Wednesday night to help the 18th-ranked Bearcats hold off East Carolina 84-78, a win that saw the Bearcats alternate between dominant and disinterested while nearly blowing a 20-point second-half lead on the Pirates hostile homecourt.

Eric Hicks added 12 points for the Bearcats (14-1, 3-0 Conference USA), who have won three straight since losing to top-ranked Illinois. Jihad Muhammad also had 12 points and several key plays to help the Bearcats turn away rallies by East Carolina (5-10, 0-3).

Corey Rouse had 21 points and 13 rebounds for the Pirates, who fell to 0-7 all-time against the Bearcats. Mike Cook added 19 points.

The Bearcats have to hope this was an aberration heading into Saturday's game with No. 19 Louisville. That opens a three-game homestand that includes Charlotte — a conference opponent that made the NCAA tournament last year — and No. 4 Wake Forest.

``I didn't want to have to go back and try to fix things two days before we play Louisville,'' said Huggins, who declined to elaborate. ``I was hoping that the light had come on, that we knew what we had to do, but that's apparently not the case.

``When you have to spend your time fixing things, that takes away from your time to prepare.''

Cincinnati needed a bit of time to take control of the game, with the Pirates — thanks partly to a rowdy home crowd — hanging in for most of the first half. But once their defense stepped up, the Bearcats had several transition scores to build a double-digit lead.

That lead — which grew to 20 points early in the second half — ultimately held up, though the feisty Pirates fought the entire way. They outrebounded the Bearcats 47-32 and cut the deficit to four points in the final 90 seconds, but could not get closer.

The Pirates twice were called for technical fouls in response to fouls by Bearcats defenders, which seemed to illustrate a we-won't-back-down mentality.

It just didn't amount to a win for a struggling team.

``We don't know how to play 40 minutes right now,'' ECU coach Bill Herrion said. ``It's not a moral victory by any stretch.''

The difference proved to be Cincinnati's 20 points off 14 turnovers in the first half, which helped the Bearcats shoot 55 percent and build a 46-32 halftime lead. It reached 57-37 on a two-handed slam by Hicks off a nifty feed from James White with 16:40 left.

``I guess mentally we just got real comfortable with the lead,'' Muhammad said. ``We've got to keep it on for 40 minutes, get them out of here so they have ... no thought in their mind or taste in their mouth that they can beat us.''

The Pirates did their part, refusing to let the Bearcats speed out of sight. East Carolina committed just four turnovers and shot 47 percent in the second half. They also played scrappy defense, holding Cincinnati to 41 percent shooting after the break.

``It's the biggest game of the year for them, so they came out with more energy than we did in the second half,'' said Maxiell, who went 10-for-17 from the floor and had three blocks. ``We're upset. Our effort in the second half wasn't as great as it should've been.''

Trailing 78-68 with about 3 minutes left, Japhet McNeil drove inside for a score. Then Rouse completed a three-point play when he was fouled on a layup in transition to cut the deficit to 78-73.

The Pirates' defense then got a stop, but — in what became a recurring theme of missed chances — Cook missed a layup off a long pass. Rouse rebounded and was fouled, but went only 1-for-2 from the line to pull to 78-74 with 1:32 to play.

White then hit two free throws on the other end for a six-point lead, and the Pirates got no closer than five points the rest of the way.

Muhammad made several key plays to hold off East Carolina runs.

After a three-point play by Hicks gave the Bearcats a 64-53 lead, Muhammad had a one-handed steal of the ensuing inbounds pass and hit two free throws to increase the margin to 13. A few minutes later, he drained a straightaway 3-pointer that gave Cincinnati a 77-66 lead with about 4 minutes left.

``I think we started believing we could win the game,'' Cook said. ``But you have to take that approach when you come out of the locker room.''

ECU's next game is Saturday when the Pirates host another conference rival, UAB. Tip off for the game is 1 p.m.



Records: ECU 5-10, 0-3 C-USA; Cincinnati 14-1, 3-0
Halftime: Cincinnati 46-32

Name           FG      FT   Pts
Hicks         5-8     2-3    12
Kirkland      3-6     0-0     7
Maxiell     10-17    4-10    24
Muhammad      3-9     5-7    12
White         2-4     4-4     9
Moore         1-4     0-0     2
Williams      3-6     4-4    11
Lucas         0-0     0-0     0
Bright        2-6     2-4     7
Totals      29-60   21-32    84

Name           FG      FT   Pts
Rouse        7-16     6-9    21
Castro       4-10     2-2    10
Badiane       4-5     6-7    14
McNeil        2-5     3-4     7
Cook         9-20     1-3    19
Kilgore       1-2     0-0     2
King          0-1     0-0     0
Hammonds      0-0     0-0     0
Hart          2-4     1-3     5
Totals      29-63   19-28    78

3-Point goals: Cincinnati 5-16 (Bright 1-1, Kirkland 1-2, White 1-3, Muhammad 1-4, Williams 1-4, Moore 0-2); East Carolina 1-10 (Rouse 1-2, Kilgore 0-1, King 0-1, Castro 0-2, McNeil 0-2, Cook 0-2).

Fouled out: Kirkland, Rouse, Badiane.

Rebounds: Cincinnati 32 (Maxiell 8); East Carolina 47 (Rouse 13).

Assists: Cincinnati 19 (Muhammad 7); East Carolina 15 (McNeil, Cook 4).

Total fouls: Cincinnati 23; East Carolina 24.

Technical fouls: Rouse, McNeil.

Attendance: 6,191.


02/23/07 10:56 AM

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