It wasn’t pretty, but in the end the bread and butter for the Cincinnati Bearcats sealed a share of the AAC regular season title for the Bearcats with a 70-66 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday.
A loss could have been a complete downfall for the Bearcats, who were riding high following a win over the Memphis Tigers. It would have likely stripped them of a shot at the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and the conference title. With Memphis’ win over SMU and Louisville‘s impending game against Connecticut, those hopes are still intact for Cincy. Cincy also avoided a loss that would have been destructive to its placement in the NCAA tournament.
Guard Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati’s head honcho, played a key role in preserving it. Kilpatrick didn’t find his extra gear until crunch time, but that was all that mattered. The AAC’s leading scorer missed his first six shots of the game before beginning to gather some steam before the end of the half. He sank his last three attempts of the half and carried that momentum into the second half.
After Cincy forward Justin Jackson sat down with his fourth foul with a little more than 10 minutes to go in the second half, Kilpatrick was entrusted to stave off the pesky Scarlet Knights looking for their first win over a ranked opponent since January of 2013. When Rutgers crawled back from a seven-point halftime deficit to take the lead with 8:46 remaining, Kilpatrick slammed the door with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to snatch it right back for the Bearcats.
He missed one shot the rest of the game and finished with 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting. When Rutgers took the lead back with less than two minutes to play, Jackson smeared an offensive rebound and scored to regain the lead 65-64. Kilpatrick then iced it with two consecutive crafty lay-ups that RU couldn’t recover from.
Kilpatrick is in a three-horse race with Louisville’s Russ Smith and UConn’s Shabazz Napier for the AAC Player of the Year, and didn’t do anything to hurt his cause on Saturday. It wasn’t a dominant performance from start to finish from Kilpatrick, but he proved that he’s as reliable as any scorer in the country with the game on the line. Bearcats fans can exhale when the ball is in his hands late in games come tournament play.