Cincinnati beats South Florida 61-53 in OT

CINCINNATI (AP) -- The home fans were booing. Cincinnati was down by eight points with precious few minutes left, looking like it was going to finish the regular season with yet another loss at home.

   For just a moment, guard Sean Kilpatrick looked over at point guard Cashmere Wright, exchanged a few words of encouragement and sensed that Bearcats had found their resolve to pull it out.

   JaQuon Parker scored five of his 14 points in overtime Saturday, and Cincinnati rallied from the eight-point deficit late in regulation to a 61-53 victory over South Florida.

   The Bearcats (21-10, 9-9 Big East) saw it coming.

   "I looked at Cash like, `We are not going to lose this game,"' Kilpatrick said. "He was like, `No, we definitely are not going to lose this game.' Once he said that, I knew he was aware of what was going on and the time and everything we had to do to get this win."

   Cincinnati ended the regular season on an upbeat note, trying to generate momentum heading into the conference tournament. The Bearcats lost six of their last nine games, a far different fashion than a year ago.

   "Someone might say this team should have finished higher," coach Mick Cronin said. "Why? It's not a God-given right to finish better than 9-9 in the Big East. The truth is, the difference between this team and last year's team is three close games that we didn't win this year. We won close games last year."

   The Bearcats got hot at the end of last season, winning seven of their last nine heading into the Big East tournament. They reached the title game before losing to Louisville, then went onto the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.

   "I don't think I can sit here and tell you how big it is for our season, especially with the momentum you need going into the Big East tournament next week," said Wright, who had a team-high 15 points. "If we lose this game, it kind of shadows you going into the tournament."

   Center Cheikh Mbodj blocked a shot late in regulation and had four free throws in overtime, finishing with eight points. Mbodj's parents flew in from Senegal to see his final home game.

   "It was a great feeling," Mbodj said. "I haven't seen them in so long -- two years ago. They haven't seen me play basketball since I was back home in Senegal, six years ago."

   Victor Rudd scored 22 for South Florida (12-18, 3-15), which ended the season with yet another disappointment after wasting the late lead. The Bulls failed to win a Big East game on the road this season, going 0-9.

   The Bulls lost 10 straight games, then won two at home before coming to Cincinnati, where they've dropped their last 11 games.

   "I absolutely feel like we are going (into the tournament) with momentum, and I told our team that," coach Stan Heath said. "We've been playing some of our best basketball. We came up a little short tonight against a good team, but we're playing much better together."

   The Bearcats honored Parker, Wright and Mbodj among their seniors before the final game at home, where they've had trouble all season. Cincinnati was 5-4 in Big East games and 13-5 overall at home.

   The Bulls never trailed in the first half, taking advantage of Cincinnati's sloppiness. The Bearcats had 11 turnovers and fell behind by as many as seven points. Rudd led the way, hitting four of his first five shots from behind the arc -- his season high for 3s made in one game.

   South Florida point guard Anthony Collins went down hard during the half and walked off the court woozy, but returned a few minutes later. Collins had six points and a pair of assists in the half, which ended with South Florida up 28-23.

   Wright, who has struggled with his shot since spraining his right knee in mid-January, hit a 3-pointer and a free throw that gave Cincinnati its first lead, 29-28. There were four lead changes in the next 4 minutes. Martino Brock hit a pair of 3s and Zach LeDay hit a 3 that gave South Florida its biggest lead, 45-37, with 5:45 to go.

   Wright hit another 3-pointer during a seven-point run that got it down to 45-44.  Wright had a chance to give Cincinnati a lead with 14 seconds left, but made only one of his two free throws, tying it at 47-all and setting up overtime.

   The Bulls went into overtime without Collins and LeDay, who had fouled out. Rudd scored all their points on a basket and four free throws.

   "You know what Collins does for us," Rudd said. "He gets us in our offense and keeps us in a rhythm offensively. Zach is playing really good right now. It was hard not having them in there for overtime."
 

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