MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — While a junk defense may have contained Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, it left Kevin Johnson open for a key 3-pointer.
Johnson’s long jumper with 36 second left, along with 21 points from Kilpatrick helped the No. 13 Bearcats defeat a determined UCF team 61-58 in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament on Thursday.
Johnson’s 3-pointer gave top seed Cincinnati (27-5) a 58-53 lead. Kilpatrick converted three of four free throws the rest of the way sending the Bearcats into Friday’s other semifinal game against the winner of No. 19 Memphis and No. 21 Connecticut later Thursday night.
“Kevin made a big shot for us late in the game,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We were able to get enough stops. Other than that, I don’t know how much we did well, or how much we have to be proud of.”
Isaiah Sykes led UCF with 21 points, converting 8 of 16 shots, while Kasey Wilson scored 11 points. Calvin Newell finished with 10. Both were 4 of 10 from the field, part of the Knights (13-18) shooting 38 percent for the game. Sykes left the game late with an injured knee and was being evaluated after the game.
Kilpatrick was 6 of 12 from the field as Cincinnati defeated the Knights for the third time this season. Kilpatrick added four assists to his night, and Justin Jackson finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
But UCF used the box-and-one to slow Kilpatrick, the Bearcats leading scorer, employing the defense midway through the second half.
“We worked on that in the ballroom (Thursday),” UCF coach Donnie Jones said. “We didn’t have shootaround, so we taped off a room (at the team hotel). We told our guys we were going to hold (the defense) to the second half.
“(I) was trying to keep it close so they couldn’t make adjustments at halftime. …I thought it was very effective.”
UCF, the No. 9 seed, was taken to double overtime in Wednesday night’s opening round before defeating Temple 94-90, but still managed to give the Bearcats a tough game.
“I think we were well-rested overnight,” Wilson said. “We played a lot of minutes (against Temple), but I don’t think it really carried over. We played as hard as we could the whole game.”
Cincinnati held a 45-35 lead with just under 11 minutes left and appeared on the brink of taking over the game as UCF was 3 of 11 from the field in the half at that point.
Instead, Central Florida scored the next eight points, capped by Newell’s steal and layup. Wilson nailed a 3-pointer about a minute later and the Knights were within 47-46.
When Sykes converted a 3-point play after a scramble for a loose ball, the game was tied at 53 with 2:55 left.
At that point, UCF seemed to be getting many of the loose balls to keep the pressure on the Bearcats.
But Johnson’s second 3-pointer of the game gave Cincinnati a two-possession lead. The play actually was drawn up with the freshman in mind because the Knights were focusing so much on Kilpatrick.
“(Kilpatrick) was getting box-and-one, so we needed someone to step up and make a shot,” Johnson said. “When the play was drawn up and I shot it, I was pretty confident, and you know, it went in.”
Jones said the choice was to control Kilpatrick and force other Bearcats to make plays. It worked pretty well until the end.
“It’s a two-point game, and we didn’t want to close out all the way to the 3-point line,” Jones said. “They bring in (Johnson) off the bench, who hadn’t played a lot of minutes for them, and he made a play.”