ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Jarron Cumberland scored 18 points and Gary Clark had 17 points and 12 rebounds to rally No. 8 Cincinnati to a 70-60 victory over Memphis in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Saturday.
Kyle Washington added 11 for the Bearcats (29-4), who advanced to meet the winner of the Wichita State-Houston game in Sunday’s final.
Jamal Johnson led Memphis with 17 points but didn’t score in the second half, when the Tigers squandered a 13-point lead. Kyvon Davenport had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Memphis (21-13), which is hoping for an invitation to the NIT tournament.
Cincinnati trailed 42-29 at halftime but erased the deficit in the first seven minutes of the second half with an active and aggressive defense.
Memphis, which shot 51.9 percent in the first half, missed 14 of its first 15 shots to start the second and had two turnovers. Johnson, who was 5-for-5 in the first half, missed the only two shots he got the first 10 minutes of the second half. He was blanketed by Bearcats defender Jacob Evans for the final 20 minutes and finished the half 0-for-4.
That put some life in the Cincinnati offense, which was dormant to that point. The Bearcats went on a 21-2 run to start the second half. It featured contributions from all five starters, including three 3-pointers from Cumberland.
Cincinnati took a 50-44 lead on Cumberland’s second 3-pointer of the half.
The Bearcats pushed that advantage to as many as 11 by relying on the same defensive pressure and relentless rebounding that got them back in the game. Cincinnati hit 10 of its last 11 free throws to seal the game.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats were projected to be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and nothing that happens in the AAC Tournament likely would have changed that. However, Cincinnati hasn’t won a conference tournament since 2004 (in Conference USA) and Coach Mick Cronin has made a point of telling his players they need to finish something this season.
Memphis: The Tigers played well at the end of the season, winning seven of their last nine and dominating Cincinnati for a half. The question now is was that enough to save Tubby Smith’s job? There have been reports that the school is ready to buy out his contract, which would be costly, but some supporters believe a change is needed.
Cincinnati: Faces the winner of Wichita State-Houston.
Memphis: Awaits word on a possible NIT berth.