"There was no panic. I'm very confident with these guys," coach Mick Cronin said after Jarron Cumberland scored 18 points and the Bearcats shrugged off a slow start to beat struggling South Florida 78-55 on Saturday night.
"They're easy to talk to because we have guys that know why you win, they know how to win," Cronin added. "So, you can get them focused. They know it's not the answer to play hero ball, it's to play team ball."
Jacob Evans III had 16 points and Kyle Washington added 14 to help the Bearcats (15-2, 4-0) remain unbeaten in the American Athletic Conference.
The victory was the eighth straight for Cincinnati, which shot 70 percent (14 of 20) while outscoring the Bulls 43-22 in the second half.
USF (7-11, 0-5) has lost six in a row, remaining winless in the AAC, where it has been beaten by an average of nearly 25 points per game.
"We showed a tremendous amount of composure on a night when things could have gone wrong," Cronin said. "To win this game by 23 points, I'm really impressed with our players."
Payton Banks led the Bulls with 22 points, though coach Brian Gregory was quick to note that his leading scorer, back in the lineup after missing three of the previous four games with an illness, finished with zero rebounds.
"You can't play 29 minutes and not have a rebound," Gregory said, noting the 6-foot-6 graduate transfer from Penn State is capable of giving the Bulls more.
Cincinnati closed the opening half on a 24-12 run, turning a 10-point deficit into a 35-33 lead. That was as close as the score would be the rest of the way, with the Bearcats methodically building a double-digit lead of their own.
"We stayed composed," said Cumberland, who made seven of 11 shots, including four of seven 3-point attempts. "We're not always going to be up in a game. Just stay composed and keep playing our game, that's what we did."
USF shot 57 percent in the first half, including four of five 3-pointers, but was outscored 17-5 from the foul line. The Bulls missed 11 of their first 16 shots coming out of the break and trailed by as many as 24 down the stretch.
"I was pleased with our competiveness for the first 22 minutes," Gregory said. "I was disappointed with the way we finished the game."
Cincinnati: There was no alarm when the Bearcats fell behind early. They offset poor shooting from the field by making 17 of 18 free throws before halftime. The second game of their Florida road swing figures to be more challenging. UCF (12-5, 3-2) has played well lately, winning eight of nine before last Wednesday's 62-53 loss at UConn.
South Florida: First-year coach Brian Gregory inherited a program that lost 17 of its final 18 games last winter, so the Bulls are in a bonafide rebuilding mode with 10 new players, including three graduate transfers (Banks, Stephan Jiggetts, Terrence Samuel). Freshman David Collins has provided a lift off the bench the past six games and figures to get more playing time over the next few weeks.
Cincinnati made more free throws in the first half, than USF shot for the game. The Bearcats finished 27 of 31 from the foul line, matching the most free throws they've in game this season (Western Carolina Nov. 13, Buffalo Nov. 20). The Bulls made 12 of 16.
Gary Clark finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds for Cincinnati.
LOOKIN' FOR AN UPSET
The last time USF beat a ranked opponent was Feb. 29, 2012, when the Bulls knocked off No. 19 Louisville 58-51 on the road. Saturday was the sixth anniversary of their most recent upset of a ranked team at home, a 56-55 victory over No. 23 Seton Hall.
Cincinnati has won 32 of 40 meetings between the teams, including 12 of 18 games played in Tampa. USF hasn't beaten the Bearcats since a one-point home win in February 2012.
Cincinnati: At UCF on Tuesday night.
South Florida: At East Carolina on Wednesday night.
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