HARTFORD, Conn. – Cincinnati had the outside game going early and the inside game clicking late.
The result was an 80-61 rout of Tulsa on Friday night in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals.
Kyle Washington led the second-seeded Bearcats with 21 points. Jacob Evans added 20 and Troy Caupain had 15.
Cincinnati (28-4) led for all but 17 seconds and by as many as 24 points.
Evans led the outside attack, going 8 for 10 from the field and hitting all three of his shots from behind the arc.
The Bearcats hit five of their first seven attempts from 3-point range and finished 8 of 20 from distance.
Washington, the 6-foot-9 junior transfer from North Carolina State, scored 15 of his points in the second half, dominating the offensive paint. He also hit 8 of his 10 shots from the floor and made all five of his free throws.
“We just try to take what the defense gives us,” Evans said. “If they want to pack it in, we’ll shoot open jump shots. If they want to close out on us hard, we can either play downhill or blow by or feed our big guys, like we did Kyle.”
Corey Henderson Jr. had 15 points and Sterling Taplin scored 10 for Tulsa, which lost three of its final four games to finish the season 15-17.
Tulsa’s Junior Etou, who averaged 16 points over the final five games of the regular season, had just eight points, including two points on three shots in the first half. He scored the Hurricane’s first six in the second half, but by then it was too late.
A shot by Jarron Cumberland from behind the arc on the right wing gave Cincinnati an early 23-12 lead. The Bearcats closed the first half on a 7-0 run and went into the intermission ahead 40-25.
A 3-pointer by Evans gave Cincinnati its first 20-point lead at 51-31.
“I think Junior struggled a little bit handling the ball in traffic,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said. “They kind of ran a couple of guys at him. We’ve got to get Junior to be a little more forceful, because he’s our front-line guy and that’s something he’s got.”
Cincinnati also won the rebounding battle 35-27 and had 19 second-chance points off 13 offensive rebounds. Tulsa had just six offensive boards and just five second-chance points.
“Something we focused on is getting our second, third and fourth rebounder to the rim so we would have a chance to keep balls alive,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “There’s multiple games, I can tell you, we wouldn’t have won if we didn’t have second-chance points.”
Cincinnati is looking for its first conference tournament title since it won the Conference USA championship in 2004.
Tulsa lost both regular-season meetings, by two points at home on Feb. 1 and by 20 in Cincinnati just over two weeks later. They blew an 11-point lead in the first game, losing on a jumper by Caupain with just under 5 seconds to play.
The Bearcats finished second in the conference, but no Cincinnati players were selected to the all-AAC first team. Only Caupain and Washington made the second team, while Cumberland was the league’s sixth man of the year and made the all-rookie team. Caupain also took home the league’s sportsmanship award.
While much of the league has struggled with depth and injury, Cincinnati was able to play nine players more than 10 minutes and nobody more than 29. Cronin said that may be a key to having a successful postseason.
“We all get 13 scholarships. I always said about the bench, you’re allowed to play them,” Cronin said. “My message to my team all week has been, the key to our March are the guys who do not start. We have really good players.”
Cincinnati will face UConn in the semifinals on Saturday. The Huskies beat Houston 74-65 on Friday. The Bearcats swept both games from the Huskies during the regular season.
Tulsa’s season is over.
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