WICHITA, Kan. — Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin took a moment late in Sunday’s game and was enjoying the atmosphere of his team’s hard-fought regular-season finale.
“I’m busy coaching, but I will admit it,” Cronin said, “during that last under-four (minute) timeout, I stopped and looked around and thought, ‘This is a great game.'”
And it ended with No. 10 Cincinnati outlasting No. 11 Wichita State 62-61 on Sunday to win the regular-season title in the American Athletic Conference.
Jacob Evans scored 19 points to lead Cincinnati (27-4, 16-2). Jarron Cumberland and Kyle Washington each scored 11 points for the Bearcats, and Gary Clark added 10.
Clark scored Cincinnati’s final four points, a layup with four minutes remaining and two free throws with 3:27 to play, giving Cincinnati a 62-58 lead.
The Bearcats did not score again, but held on in a slugfest that featured only two baskets in the final five minutes.
“I will tell you, honestly, when both teams were playing so hard for so long, it becomes a game of attrition,” Cronin said.
“And sometimes, that takes away your ability to make shots. You’re just battling so hard.”
Landry Shamet and Shaquille Morris each scored 16 points for Wichita State (24-6, 14-4). The Shockers needed a victory to share the conference title and would have earned the top seed in the AAC tournament after having defeated Cincinnati earlier this season.
“It felt like a game that should have been played at a neutral court late in March,” Shamet said. “It was a hell of a fight.”
Cincinnati had a 16-1 run in the first half to take a 27-16 lead, but Wichita State closed within 37-36 by halftime. The game was tight throughout the second half, and the Shockers had three shots in the final 15 seconds.
Clark blocked a shot by a driving Shamet, giving Wichita State the ball out of bounds under its own basket with 9 seconds remaining. The Shockers got the ball to shooting guard Conner Frankamp, who was guarded by Cincinnati center Nysier Brooks, the mismatch they anticipated.
Frankamp’s jumper missed long, and Darral Willis’ put-back hit the back of the backboard as time expired.
“I thought Conner’s shot was going in; it looked good,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “I would do the same thing again.”
Clark said winning the game, and earning the conference title, with defense on the road was perfect. The Bearcats outscored Wichita State 16-2 off turnovers.
“Everything about today was amazing,” Clark said. “I mean, this place, it just roars. And that’s the type of environment you want to play in, to win in. We didn’t want to share the title, and it was great to get that done.”
The American Athletic Conference hoped for a big event when scheduling this game for the final Sunday of the regular season. With two highly ranked teams trying to earn a conference title in front of a national TV audience, everything went according to plan.
“I think this was great for our conference.” Cronin said. “This team here (Wichita State), now that they’re healthy, they’re the real deal. Playing Wichita State twice makes us a better team. I hope we play them again.”
Cincinnati had not played in Wichita since 1981, an 87-67 Shockers victory behind Antoine Carr, one of the program’s greatest players.
The scoring record for Koch Arena is still held by the most famous Bearcat: Oscar Robertson.
On March 1, 1958, — in the building’s third year of existence — Robertson scored 50 points in an 86-82 Cincinnati win.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats get a tough road victory that raises their profile and answers some questions about their schedule.
Wichita State: With six seniors playing their final game, the Shockers could not muster enough offense to win.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats will play Friday in the American Athletic Conference tournament.
Wichita State: The Shockers will play Friday in the American Athletic Conference tournament.