HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — The stretch of games against overmatched teams is finished. No. 11 Cincinnati gets to start measuring its worth, starting with its crosstown rival.
The Bearcats finally have a game that everyone in Cincinnati is awaiting.
Gary Clark had 14 point and seven rebounds, and No. 11 Cincinnati stayed unbeaten heading into its game against its crosstown rival by beating winless Alabama State 83-51 on Monday night.
The Bearcats (7-0) play at No. 21 Xavier on Saturday in an atmosphere that will be unlike anything they’ve faced so far this season. The Musketeers have won seven of the last 10 in the crosstown rivalry, although Cincinnati won on its home court last season.
”It’s that game every year that everyone goes crazy about in the city,” Clark said. ”As players, we just go out and enjoy it. If you get caught up in it too much, you lose.”
Coach Mick Cronin’s biggest concern is that the Bearcats haven’t played anybody who could expose their shortcomings. Xavier is coming off its first loss of the season, against No. 20 Arizona State, and hosts No. 16 Baylor on Tuesday night.
”We haven’t played anybody yet that’s been able to take our offense away from us, so to speak,” Cronin said. ”And they’ll be able to do that. They’re not going to let us just throw the ball to Gary Clark whenever we want. It’s not going to be that easy.”
Facing a ranked team for the first time in five years, Alabama State (0-7) had 20 turnovers that led to 30 Cincinnati points. Branden Johnson led with the Hornets with 10 points.
”We didn’t do everything right, but we gave our best effort throughout the game,” coach Lewis Jackson said.
Cincinnati won its 30th straight home game, a streak that spans two home courts. The Bearcats are 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.
Alabama State: The Hornets have traveled 6,517 miles while opening the season with all road games. They’ve visited Mississippi, Iowa, South Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats went 19 of 26 from the free-throw line. The Hornets didn’t shoot a free throw until Jacoby Ross went to the line with 55 seconds left and made both shots. The Bearcats were called for 11 fouls total.
OH THOSE TURNOVERS
The Hornets shot 48 percent from the field in the first half and out-rebounded the bigger Bearcats 15-12, but their 13 turnovers helped Cincinnati take control 46-26.
Cronin went easy on his players in practice coming off their three-game tournament in the Cayman Islands . He knew he didn’t have to push to get a win over Alabama State, so nobody played more than 23 minutes.
”I tried to use tonight basically as a practice, trying to give guys equal minutes,” Cronin said. ”Hopefully we’ll go hard three more times this week (in practice) and get ready for Saturday.”
ON THE BOARDS
Alabama State finished even with taller Cincinnati in rebounds at 34 apiece. Both teams had 13 offensive rebounds.
”Our main points of emphasis being to keep them off the boards because they are so big,” Jackson said. ”We also wanted to keep them off the free-throw line.”
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
Cincinnati guard Jacob Evans III, on the challenge of facing overmatched opponents every game so far: ”The most difficult part is to keep improving no matter what the score is.”
Alabama State plays at Jacksonville State on Thursday, its final road game before its home opener against Tennessee State on Dec. 12.
Cincinnati starts the first challenging stretch of its schedule. After the game at Xavier, it plays at No. 6 Florida, hosts Mississippi State, and plays at UCLA.
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