Xavier vs Cincinnati
CINCINNATI — Trevon Bluiett had another big game against Xavier’s crosstown rival, one that ended with more hard feelings. The Musketeers’ annual grudge match with Cincinnati fit the mold and left the city’s college basketball fans with plenty to debate for another year.
Bluiett scored 28 points as the 21st-ranked Musketeers ran away to an 89-76 victory over No. 11 Cincinnati on Saturday, their eighth victory in the last 11 games of the series.
There were three technical fouls and animosity at the end. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin exchanged words with Xavier senior J.P. Macura and had to be pulled away from the postgame handshake line by an official and an assistant Cincinnati coach.
Xavier coach Chris Mack emotionally defended his player afterward and tried to keep the focus on the Musketeers’ impressive win.
“There’s no other narrative other than us playing better than Cincinnati and beating Cincinnati,” Mack said.
In this one, they were better in all ways.
The Musketeers (7-1) led by 17 midway through the first half by dominating every aspect. They pushed the lead to 23 in the second half. Cincinnati’s Jacob Evans III hit four straight shots that cut it to 80-72 with 1:26 to go, but Bluiett hit a pair of free throws that put it away. Evans had a team-high 23 points.
The Bearcats (7-1) hadn’t faced a ranked team all season, and they came apart against Xavier’s man-to-man defense and patient offense. They haven’t won at Xavier since 2001, when Bob Huggins was the coach. They’ve dropped seven straight at the Cintas Center.
“We took ourselves out of the game,” Evans said . “They hit some shots early and we were trying to respond with quick shot. That led to trouble for us. That just feeds them.”
Blueitt had 40 points last season in Cincinnati’s home-court win. He put his imprint on the game with an early 3-pointer and finished it with free throws, playing despite a stiff back that had limited him earlier in the week.
“I wanted it bad,” Bluiett said. “Last year it ended the way we didn’t want it to end. It kind of stuck with us throughout the whole year. We had this game on our calendars.”
There was a dust-up in the final minute of the first half, when Macura and Cincinnati’s Trevor Moore got technical fouls and Cronin got one for yelling something from the bench.
After the postgame handshake, Cronin turned around and went back toward the Xavier bench, yelling. An official and a Cincinnati assistant grabbed him by the elbows and led him away. Cronin said Macura directed an obscenity at him during the game and again afterward.
“If he was playing for me, he wouldn’t play,” Cronin said. “He wouldn’t play for me.”
Mack defended Macura and said former Cincinnati player Lance Stephenson directed obscenities at him during their rivalry game years ago, but they shook hands afterward and walked away.
“J.P.’s my guy,” Mack said. “J.P. will fight for every inch on the basketball court. He’s a great kid, and I’m not going to let anyone control the narrative on who they think J.P. Macura is.
“To say `he wouldn’t play for me’ — I think that’s disrespectful.”
ON THE BOARDS
Xavier dropped last season’s game 86-78 because it didn’t box out, allowing Cincinnati to get 19 offensive rebounds and 30 second-chance points. The Musketeers dominated this one even though top rebounder Tyrique Jones missed most of the second half. Xavier finished with a 44-27 edge in rebounds.
Mack prepared his team by wearing a No. 19 jersey to practice and showing his team video of each one of Cincinnati’s 19 offensive rebounds in last season’s game. Xavier finished with a 13-9 edge in offensive rebounds.
“I think we were the hungrier team,” said Xavier’s Kerem Kanter, who had a season-high 17 points. “Our emphasis was on how they out-rebounded us by 19 last year.”
QUOTE OF THE GAME
Mack, on how he’ll celebrate the win: “For a long time.”
Cincinnati has a week off. The Bearcats play No. 6 Florida next Saturday in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center.
Xavier hosts Kent State on Wednesday. The Musketeers have won seven straight and are 13-4 all-time against the Golden Flashes.