CINCINNATI, FEB. 2, 2014 – The Bulls took a lead past the 6-minute mark but didn’t have enough to finish No. 13 Cincinnati’s perfect conference run in a 50-45 loss Sunday afternoon.
Justin Jackson provided the go-ahead jumper with 5:23 remaining and Cincinnati (21-2, 10-0) held on for its 14th consecutive victory before a crowd of 10,367 at Fifth Third Arena. Sean Kilpatrick finished with a game-high 18 points after scoring the Bearcats’ final eight in another close matchup with the Bulls.
USF (11-11, 2-7) had the lead in the second half of a 61-54 loss to Cincinnati at the Sun Dome on Jan. 18 and the Bulls took the Bearcats to overtime last March at Fifth Third Arena. USF also held off Cincinnati, 46-45, at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Feb. 26, 2012 on the way to an NCAA tournament berth.
“It was just a tough, hard-nosed battle. I don’t what it is, it just seems like every time we go lace them up against Cincinnati it’s a battle,” head coach Stan Heath said. “I give our guys a lot of credit. They came over here on the road in a tough environment and really played hard.”
Freshman Chris Perry (Bartow, Fla.) had another strong game with a team-high 13 points and senior Victor Rudd (Los Angeles) added 11 points, but the big reason why the Bulls nearly pulled off a top-25 stunner was because of their effort on the defensive end.
Cincinnati’s 50 points were the fewest scored by a USF opponent all season and the Bearcats reached the mark by shooting 33 percent from the field (17-for-51).
“It’s our best defensive effort today by far and that’s been a sore spot,” Heath said. “If you hold a team to 33 percent shooting and 23 percent from three that usually spells ‘W.’”
Cincinnati took a 24-18 lead into halftime, but the Bulls pulled ahead after the break with a 7-0 run. Perry’s layup off a pass from Rudd down low gave USF a 27-26 lead with 14:20 remaining and the Bulls grabbed a 41-38 advantage thanks to Rudd’s 12-footer with 6:32 to play.
The Bearcats answered with an 8-0 run, with six points coming from Kilpatrick, and improved to 15-0 at home this season. USF had open looks from long range down the stretch but finished 1-for-11 from beyond the arc.
“Our kids fought like crazy and I’m proud of them. We’re just going to keep battling,” Heath said. “That’s the No. 1 team in our league and we’ve got a chance. We’ve just got to keep battling.”
USF looks to bounce back 7 p.m. Wednesday at UCF before returning to the Sun Dome to host Rutgers on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. Purchase tickets HERE and stay updated on the Bulls all season long by following the team on Twitter @USFMBB.