HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Midway through the first half, it looked like Cincinnati’s long home-court winning streak was in jeopardy. The eighth-ranked Bearcats kept it going by pulling off their biggest comeback in coach Mick Cronin’s 12 seasons.
Jacob Evans III scored 18 points, hitting the pivotal shots during Cincinnati’s rally from an 18-point deficit, and Bearcats pulled away for an 80-70 victory over Houston on Wednesday night.
“The question I’ve had for this team all year is when the time comes, when the moment of truth comes, will we be able to take our game to another level,” Cronin said. “I thought that’s what we did tonight.”
After trailing 33-15, the Bearcats (20-2, 9-0 American Athletic) closed out the first half with a flourish that featured Evans’ steal and banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer. His 3 gave Cincinnati its first lead of the second half.
“It’s kind of difficult, an arduous task sometimes,” said Kyle Washington, who had 19 points. “But this team is probably the closest team I’ve been on in terms of cohesiveness and getting through adversity. It makes it easier when we’re in a spot like that. It was a great test for us.”
Cincinnati has won 13 in a row since back-to-back losses against Xavier and Florida, the only ranked teams it has played. The Bearcats have won 38 straight home games, the nation’s longest active streak.
Houston (16-5, 6-3) couldn’t get a breakthrough win in the series. The Cougars fell to 0-16 on the Bearcats’ home court and 2-30 overall against Cincinnati.
The Cougars stunned the Bearcats by getting eight steals and rolling out to the big early lead . Gary Clark hit a 3-pointer that stopped the Cougars’ 26-7 run, and he added another 3 and a pair of free throws that got the Bearcats going. Clark finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“The next thing you know, it’s 37-26,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “And then we started putting them on the free-throw line. We just had some tough things happen.”
Houston’s Rob Gray came in leading the AAC at 18.7 points per game but managed only nine on 4-of-15 shooting as Cincinnati took away his lanes to the basket. Corey Davis Jr. led the Cougars with 18 points.
Houston: The Cougars beat then-No. 7 Wichita State 73-59 at home on Jan. 20, got votes in the AP poll and were looking for a signature road win at BB&T Arena. They faded down the stretch, managing only 14 points in the final 10 minutes.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats have had only one close call since getting into league play, a 55-53 win at Temple. The only currently ranked team left on their schedule is No. 16 Wichita State.
HOME SWEET HOME
The Bearcats have gone 12-0 while playing this season at BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University while their on-campus arena is renovated. They went 18-0 at Fifth Third Arena last season. Their last home-court loss was 77-70 against Temple on Dec. 29, 2015.
COUGARS AND THE RANKED
Houston is 1-2 against ranked teams this season. The Cougars haven’t beaten two Top 10 teams in a season since 1983-84, when Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Young led the Cougars to the NCAA Tournament title game and a loss to Georgetown.
The Bearcats hadn’t allowed more than 60 points in any of their last eight games. They came in ranked No. 2 nationally in defense, allowing 56.2 per game.
The Cougars quickly got into foul trouble. Fabian White Jr. had 10 points in the first half before picking up his second foul and heading for the bench. Breaon Brady and Nura Zanna each had three fouls in the opening half. Brady picked up two more fouls in the opening minute of the second half.
“We have to keep them on the floor,” Sampson said. “That’s a tough deal for us.”
Cincinnati had eight turnovers while falling behind by 18. The Bearcats had only two more the rest of the game.
Houston: Plays at Central Florida on Saturday. The teams split their series last season.
Cincinnati: Plays at Connecticut on Saturday. The Bearcats won all three games between the teams last season, including the conference tournament.