CINCINNATI (AP) — Sean Kilpatrick overcame an off-target performance by scoring 10 of his 18 points in the closing minutes on Sunday, rallying No. 13 Cincinnati to its 14th straight victory, 50-45 over South Florida.
The Bearcats (21-2, 10-0 American Athletic) trailed by three points with 8 minutes left. Kilpatrick, who leads the conference in scoring, took over the game and extended Cincinnati’s best start since the 2001-02 season, when it was in Conference USA.
The senior guard made six free throws and two driving lay-ins, scoring 10 of Cincinnati’s final 12 points. Justin Jackson added 15 points as Cincinnati won its 17th straight home game, 15 of them this season.
South Florida (11-11, 2-7) suffered another close loss to the Bearcats, who broke open a tie game for a 61-54 win on Jan. 18. Chris Perry had 13 points and Victor Rudd scored 11 for the Bulls, who have lost their past 11 games in Cincinnati.
Until the closing minutes, it was a rough game for Kilpatrick, who averages 19.5 points per game. He finished 5 of 16 from the field and only 2 of 8 beyond the arc. Kilpatrick moved ahead of Danny Fortson and Deonta Vaughn into third place on Cincinnati’s career scoring list.
South Florida was coming off a 78-71 win over SMU that snapped a four-game losing streak. The Bulls haven’t beaten a ranked team since Feb. 29, 2012, at Louisville.
The Bearcats were coming off a defining 69-66 win at No. 12 Louisville on Thursday night that left them in control of the AAC. Jackson returned from a sprained left ankle and helped the Bearcats pull it out at the end.
The forward was Cincinnati’s best option at the start on Sunday, hitting three close-up baskets during an opening 11-2 run. The Bulls were flustered, missing their first three shots and turning it over twice. They called a timeout, went back on the court and couldn’t get the ball past midcourt, turning it over on a 10-second call.
Rudd got South Florida going, hitting a driving layup and a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls a 14-13 lead. Both teams missed open shots during a ragged opening half, with Cincinnati ahead 24-18 at the break. It was the fewest points South Florida had scored in an opening half.
The Bulls intensified their defense at the start of the second half and pulled ahead. Martino Brock’s three-point play and Perry’s layup gave South Florida a 27-26 lead. The Bearcats missed four of their five shots in the half and turned it over six times, helping the Bulls to pull ahead.
Kilpatrick missed eight of his first 10 shots. His 3-pointer started an 8-2 spurt that put the Bearcats back ahead.
Not for long. Perry drove for a basket and hit a jumper that gave the Bulls their biggest lead, 39-36, with 7:18 to go. Perry raised his arms toward the student section and motioned for some cheering as he ran down the court. At that point, the Bulls were shooting 50 percent in the second half.
Kilpatrick took it from there.
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