The Cincinnati Bearcats who were enjoying the perks of their number one seed played their first game of the AAC Tournament Thursday night with an upset-minded UCF team looking to extend their tumultuous season. The ninth-seeded Knights gave the Bearcats all that they could handle. But with the leadership of First-Team All-AAC player Sean Kilpatrick who scored 21 tonight, he hit crucial shots in the final minutes to help Cincinnati secure a 61-58 victory to move to the semi-finals to set a matchup against the winner of the Memphis/Connecticut game.
Along with his 21 points, Kilpatrick added four assists to his stat-line and AAC Defensive Play of The Year Justin Jackson also contributed with 14 points and eight rebounds.
After holding a three point lead going into the half, the Bearcats came out strong in the first 9 minutes of the second half as they held a 45-35 lead with just under 11 minutes left and appeared on the brink of taking over the game as UCF was only 3 of 11 from the field in the half at that point.
Then the Knights turned up the defense and held the Bearcats' offense in check and cut Cincinnati's 10-point lead all the way to tie the game at 53 with less than three minutes to go in the game. It was all thanks to the senior guard Isaiah Sykes who scored 21 for the Knights in his presumably last career game.
Both the Bearcats and the Knights struggled mightily from the charity stripe for this game, both teams hovering around 60-61% for the game. But luckily it didn't cost the game for the Bearcats but did for the Knights. Jackson got a basket on a goal-tend with 1:37 remaining, but couldn't make the ensuing free throw when he was fouled. He missed all five of his free throws in the game. UCF forward Justin McBride missed two free throws that could have tied the game, but left it at 55-53.
But perhaps the biggest play of the game for Cincinnati was from a player that doesn't get the limelight that Kilpatrick and Jackson receives. Freshman guard Kevin Johnson converted his second 3-pointer of the game with 36 seconds left and gave Cincinnati a two-possession lead, and held on for the win. He had eight points in the game.
Interesting tidbit from ESPN stats, Sean Kilpatrick touched the ball 51 times in tonight's game. Cincinnati averaged nearly twice as many points per possession when Kilpatrick touched the ball.