As expected, the Cincinnati Bearcats got their first real test of the season Friday night when they faced the Iowa State Cyclones. Despite a slow first half, UC once again followed the lead of junior guard Sean Kilpatrick as they held off the Cyclones to win, 78-70.
Kilpatrick scored a career-high in points for the second time in three games, putting up 32 points with the help of 16-for-16 shooting from the free throw line. Cashmere Wright added 14, including two key free throws with 31.4 seconds remaining to seal the win.
No. 22 UC (5-0) will play the winner of the second Global Sports Classic Semifinal between No. 19 UNLV and Oregon.
After winning their first four games by an average margin of 34.5 points per game, the Bearcats had their hands full with a talented Iowa State (4-1) team that stole the momentum in the first half, dictated the pace at times to keep things close and pulled within 4 points with 46 seconds left. The Cyclones were led by Tyrus McGee, who scored 22 points.
With the scored tied, 35-35, at halftime, UC cranked up its running game early in the second half and outscored, Iowa State, 23-7, in the first eight minutes to take a 58-42 lead. While the offense hit its stride, the UC defense turned up the heat on the Cyclones who missed eight of their first nine shots while UC was pulling away.
The Cyclones mounted a strong comeback, however, and the Bearcats' lead shrunk to 4 with 46 left. UC was resilient, however, riding key jump shots from Titus Rubles and free throws from Kilpatrick to finish with an 8 point win.
The Bearcats' hot start to the season had been marred by horrendous free throw shooting, even by "shooters" like Kilpatrick and Wright. Head Coach Mick Cronin said there was an urgency for his team to show improvement at the free throw line, where they came into the game shooting 53.2 percent.
Something clicked, as Kilpatrick, who entered just 5 of 13 from the stripe, was a perfect 16 of 16 Friday. As a team, the Bearcats shot 92 percent (23-of-25) from the line against the Cyclones.
Follow Josh on Twitter at @CincyBurns.