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Cincinnati builds big halftime lead, coasts to 78-65 win over NKU on Tuesday night

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

It took 30 years for Northern Kentucky University and the University of Cincinnati to renew their rivalry on the basketball court.

But the excitement lasted only 10 minutes Tuesday night as UC bolted out to a huge lead and coasted to a 78-65 win over NKU at Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats (8-1) used a 14-0 run midway through the first half to turn a 13-all tie into 27-13 advantage and rolled to their eighth consecutive victory in front of a crowd of 11,218.

NKU’s Drew McDonald is surrounded by four UC players during the first half. McDonald finished with eight points and eight rebounds. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Tre Scott scored 14 of his 22 points in the first half for UC, which dominated the inside with its superior length and built a 45-28 cushion at intermission. The Bearcats outrebounded the Norse by a 28-12 margin in the opening half and made 16 of their 18 free throws before the break.

“We didn’t react very well in the first half when things started happening,” NKU head coach John Brannen said. “We talked about handling adversity coming in, and I’m a little disappointed in that. But let’s give Cincinnati the credit they deserve. The matchup is hard. It’s hard to attack.”

UC held NKU star forward Drew McDonald scoreless during the first half. McDonald, who entered Tuesday night averaging 19.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, was the focus of intense defensive pressure and missed all seven of his attempts from the field before intermission.

“Drew’s a great player, and I never thought we’d be able to contain him as well as our guys did in the first half,” UC head coach Mick Cronin said. “I don’t know if Drew has ever gone 3-for-15 from the field in a game. We gave him as many different looks as we could defensively.

“I did not expect to look up and be up the way we were most of the game. That’s how good I think their team is and how good of a job John does. I think they’ll win their league, be an NCAA Tournament team and I’ll be rooting for them every step of the way.”

McDonald finished with eight points and eight rebounds. The Cold Spring native now has 858 career rebounds, just two shy of breaking LaRon Moore’s school-record 859 boards.

“Our plan was not to let (McDonald) catch it in the post,” Scott said. “We executed that and we took him out of the game. We got some quick fouls on him as well. We were there for each other. When he did catch in the post, you’d see the help side defense with a few blocks.”

Jalen Tate came off the bench in the first half and scored five quick points, including a basket while being fouled and the subsequent free throw to tie the contest at 13-all. UC responded by running off 14 consecutive points for a 27-13 lead, and the Bearcats later built that first-half advantage to 20 (41-21).

NKU’s Trevon Faulkner goes up for a basket against UC on Tuesday night. Faulkner finished with seven points. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

NKU (8-2) rallied in the second half and cut the UC lead to 12 on several occasions, but the Bearcats pushed their advantage back to 19 points with less than eight minutes remaining and improved to 8-0 all-time against the Norse.

“I thought we’d come in here and compete, I thought we could give them a game,” Brannen said. “I’m disappointed we didn’t.”

It marked the first regular-season game between the two programs since Nov. 27, 1988, when UC posted a 75-63 win over NKU in Cincinnati Gardens.

Both NKU losses this season have been against American Athletic Conference members. In addition to the UC defeat, the Norse also dropped a 66-53 decision at Central Florida on Nov. 24.

Tyler Sharpe scored 16 points to lead NKU, while Tate finished with 13 points and two steals. The Norse shot 40 percent from the field and were just 6-for-15 from the free-throw line.

Jarron Cumberland netted 12 points and dished out five assists for UC, which converted 26 free throws in 33 attempts. The Bearcats also finished with a 39-31 edge in rebounds.

NKU plays at Eastern Kentucky at 6 p.m. Saturday.

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