NEW YORK (AP) – It was impossible not to think of the Big East when Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, two former members of the conference, met in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
The teams didn’t have to stage an old-fashioned defensive battle with plenty of missed shots and key rebounds.
But they did.
Titus Rubles’ rebound basket with 4.2 seconds to play gave Cincinnati a 44-43 victory over previously unbeaten Pittsburgh.
It was appropriate the winning points came on a missed shot in a game where neither team shot 38 percent from the field.
“I thought it was beautiful,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said when somebody brought up the word ugly to describe the game.
“I don’t know what game you were watching,” said Justin Jackson, who led the Bearcats with 12 points.
The Bearcats (8-2) had lost two straight, the last of which was a 64-47 loss to crosstown rival Xavier on Saturday night.
“You’ve got to be able to win these kind of games,” Cronin said. “Our guys were so upset at what happened Saturday night we had guys who couldn’t eat. I was a psychiatrist more than a coach the last few days.”
Most of Jackson’s points came on his seven offensive rebounds. He had nine rebounds total and the Bearcats finished with a 35-27 advantage on the boards, 16-8 on the offensive end.
“We came trying to outrebound them and got outrebounded,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. “We didn’t play well the whole game but we fought back to get the lead and then didn’t do things right when we got there. We knew we had some work to do but I thought our offense was better than that. We didn’t handle their physicality at all.”
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati’s leading scorer at 19.3 points per game, finished with nine on 4-of-13 shooting including going 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
Talib Zanna had 12 points for the Panthers (10-1), one of 14 Division I teams to start the day without a loss, while Lamar Patterson added 11.
Pittsburgh did not have a field goal for a 13:43 stretch in the second half, a drought that ended with a drive by Cameron Wright with 1:07 left that gave the Panthers a 43-42 lead. Patterson missed two free throws with 21 seconds left. Cincinnati worked the clock down and Kilpatrick missed a drive but Rubles got the rebound and scored. He had six points and two rebounds.
Wright took a running jumper from just inside midcourt as the buzzer sounded.
“I feel like I lost the game for us,” Patterson said.
Wright jumped to his defense.
“You don’t lose a game on one possession or two missed free throws,” Wright said, “We just didn’t go out there and do what we were supposed to do.”
The Bearcats shot 37.7 percent from the field (20 of 53) and were 3 of 13 on 3s (23.1 percent). They entered the game scoring 73.4 points per game on 43.4 shooting overall and 35.2 percent from 3-point range.
The Panthers came in averaging 82.6 points on 49.5 shooting overall and 34.6 percent on 3s. They were 11 of 35 from the field (31.4 percent) and they were 2 of 13 from 3-point range (15.4 percent).
The 11 field goals were the fewest in a game for the Panthers in coach Jamie Dixon’s 11 seasons and the second-fewest in school history.
These schools were in the Big East together for eight years – 2005-13 – and Pittsburgh had an 8-3 record in those meetings. The Bearcats, who are in the American Athletic Conference, now have a 10-9 lead in the overall series. Pittsburgh, which is now in the Atlantic Coast Conference, joined the Big East in 1982.
Kilpatrick, a native of nearby Yonkers, and fellow senior Jackson were sentimental about the game.
“Me and Justin were talking in our room that this was going to be our last time in the Garden,” Kilpatrick said. “It is just an amazing feeling to win in the Garden.”