Roberts' 20 points lead Cougars past Bearcats

The Cincinnati Bearcats (15-8, 4-6) returned home Saturday afternoon for a clash against old AAC rival, Houston (21-3, 8-3).

Wearing their all-black uniforms in front of a standing room only crowd, the Bearcats were looking to end a nine-game losing streak to Kelvin Sampson and his Houston Cougars. 

(Photo: Taylor Keeton)

Houston entered Saturday's game as the best defensive team in the country in kenpom's defensive ratings. 

Kelvin Sampson's team ranked first in the country in scoring defense (54 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (36.9 percent) , eighth in steals per game (10) , tenth in turnovers forced per game (16.45), and eleventh in three-point percentage defense (28.9 percent). 

For Cincinnati to pull a mild home upset, they were going to have to play with a toughness at both ends of the floor that this program has been built on. 

Two minutes into the game, Houston had out-rebounded Cincinnati 5-0 and led 6-0 after connecting on 4 consecutive free throws.

Houston extended their lead to 11-2 on a second chance dunk by J'Wan Roberts with 16:35 left in the first half and led 13-4 at the first media stop, following a technical foul on Wes Miller for arguing a foul called on Day Day Thomas. 

(Photo: Taylor Keeton)

Houston looked like the more physical and tougher team to start the game, out-rebounding Cincinnati 10-1 and scoring eight points in the paint as they led 17-6 with thirteen minutes remaining in the half.

At the under 12 media stop, Houston led 19-10 following a Jizzle James free throw. Cincinnati continued to struggle to match the physical play of Houston at both ends, as the Cougars had outscored UC 10-2 in the paint. 

Cincinnati was able to hold Houston without a field goal for over four minutes but still trailed 20-10 with 8:54 remaining in the half as Houston continued to own the Bearcats on the glass with a 16-5 advantage. Seven of those rebounds for Houston came on the offensive end. 

Needing a spark and a sign of toughness, Jamille Reynolds scored four straight on two free throws and a put back dunk to bring the UC fans to their feet.  

(Photo: Taylor Keeton)

Reynolds put back dunk would spark a 7-0 run by the Bearcats over the next 1:53. 

John Newman connected from three, Dan Skillings made one-of-two free throws, and Simas Lukosius banked in a three to cap off the run as Fifth Third Arena erupted.

With 3:03 left in the half, Cincinnati had cut Houston's lead to three, 27-24. The run was aided by the Cougars missing seven consecutive field goal attempts and  13 of their last 15. 

When the first half buzzer sounded, the Bearcats had outscored Houston 15-2 over the final 4:56 to take a 32-29 half time lead.

(Photo: Taylor Keeton)

Dan Skillings' second chance layup off a James miss with 1:49 left in the half gave UC their first lead of the game. Skillings would finish with nine first half points to lead all scorers. 

Houston second leading scorer Jamal Shead finished with seven first half points but was limited to just 2-of-13 from the field.

Cincinnati stayed hot to start the second half. 

After J'Wan Roberts opened the second half with a dunk, UC responded with a 6-0 run over the next 1:52 to give the home team a 38-31 lead at the 17:16 mark of the second half. John Newman capped the run with a put back off a Skillings miss.

The Cougars answered with a 7-0 run over the next 2:07 to tie the score at 38 with 15:09 remaining in the game.

Jamal Shead scored five points during the Houston run, including the game tying three at the 15:46 mark. 

Jamille Reynolds ended a four minute 15 second Bearcats' scoring drought with 12:47 to play to tie the score at 40.

J'Wan Roberts gave Houston a 44-40 lead with 11:49 left following an and one. Houston had outscored Cincinnati 13-2 over the previous five minutes as the Bearcats missed 6-of-7 field goal attempts. 

(Photo: Taylor Keeton)

The Houston run would continue, while the Cincinnati struggles from the field also continued. 

J'Wan Roberts extended the Houston lead to 50-41 following a bucket over John Newman and Aziz Bandaogo with 9:17 left in the game.

With 8:21 left in the game, Cincinnati had missed nine of their last ten field goal attempts and had been held without a field goal for four minutes 26 seconds. 

Day Day Thomas ended the Cincinnati scoring drought with a layup and then knocked down a three with 5:53 to play to cut Houston's lead to six, 54-48.

Houston scored the next four points to extend their lead to ten, 58-48, with 4:04 left in the game.

(Photo: Taylor Keeton)

The Bearcats answered with a 7-0 run over the next 1:16 to get back in the game. John Newman's put back dunk with 2:36 left cut the Houston lead to three, 58-55.

Trailing 61-57 with 1:41 left, Jamille Reynolds went to the line and sank both free throws to cut Houston's lead to 61-59. 

LJ Cryer sat the majority of the second half with four fouls but came off the bench and hit a jumper over John Newman with 1:13 left to give the Cougars a 4-point lead.

Following a Roberts block on Cincinnati's next possession, Ja'Vien Francis dunked home a Shead miss to end any hope of a Cincinnati comeback. 

"Give LJ [Cryer] credit coming out of that timeout. His shot was a big-time shot by a big-time player, and we guarded it well," Miller told reporters following the game. 

"He was jumping off one leg away from the basket, one of the hardest shots in college basketball. We had it down to a four-point game after the shot from LJ [Cryer] and we got them to shoot quickly and miss but unfortunately, we couldn’t box out and get the rebound."

Final Score: Houston 67 Cincinnati 62

Key Stats and notes:

J'Wan Roberts led all scorers with 20 points, eight rebounds. The big man has torched the Bearcats over the years and had another outstanding game for the Cougars tonight as well. Roberts was the primary reason Houston outscored Cincinnati 38-22 in the paint. 

- Day Day Thomas and Jizzle James both did a great job defensively on Jamal Shead. The Bob Cousy Award candidate finished with 16 points but did so on 6-of-25 shooting in 38 minutes of action.

"He might be as good as any guard we have in college basketball right now and I thought those guys combined did a nice job on him," Miller said following the game.

" I'm sure there's one or two possessions they'd both like to have back but yeah that's a good sign for us cause being able to defend that position is really important in this league, this level of college basketball. We have two guys that are very capable of defending that position every night."

- Speaking of James, the freshman finished with 10 points, three rebounds in 20 minutes. His basket with 14 seconds left cut Houston's lead to three, 65-62, but Cincinnati couldn't get a turnover on the next Houston possession as Roberts threw down a wide open dunk for the final basket of the game. 



- John Newman was outstanding once again. Newman finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds while limiting Houston leading scorer LJ Cryer to 8 points on 2-of-7 shooting. 

- Houston out-rebounded Cincinnati 41-34 with 17 offensive rebounds. Houston finished the game with 22 second chance points off of those 17 offensive rebounds. In a game where both teams finished under 40 percent from the field, hustle plays like that end up being the difference. 



- Dan Skillings led Cincinnati in scoring with 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting. While it wasn't the reason the Bearcats lost, Skillings missed dunk with 11:58 remaining and UC down two was a killer. as Houston outscored UC 10-3 over the next 4:53.

- With Vik Lakhin struggling once again (0-for-4 FG, 0-for-3 3FG, 3 rbs), Jamille Reynolds came off the bench to contribute eight points, four rebounds. Bandaogo finished with eight points as well,but was credited with just one rebound. The bigs will have to be better on the glass moving forward if this team is going to be successful. 

Final thoughts

Another tough loss by the Bearcats. At some point, they have to figure out a way to get stops and rebounds down the stretch in close games. They have shown an ability to do it at times this season but not with enough consistency. Houston made 4-of-5 down the stretch and got multiple offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive when the Bearcats needed a stop. With Iowa State up next, Wes Miller's squad will have to turn the page and move on quick with the second-best defensive team in the conference visiting Fifth Third Arena Tuesday night. 

" There's nowhere to run and hide in this league," Said Miller. "Every night it's going to be something. We can be pissed off but we better not have the hangover effect because what we have coming in here Tuesday night. We better get our minds around what we have to do to prepare and this team's tough and they're capable. We're going to need Fifth Third to be electric again because we got to try to respond to some of the things we didn't do well tonight."

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