PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Cincinnati decided it was time to play like Cincinnati.
The 21st-ranked Bearcats snapped a two-game losing streak by playing defense the way they had played defense before the slump that saw them drop three of four and fall from a No. 8 ranking in the Top 25.With Cashmere Wright leading the way with 23 points while not committing a turnover as he ran the offense, the Bearcats beat Rutgers 68-58 on Saturday night to stay unbeaten on the road."Coming in, coach (Mick Cronin) preached that we lost two in a row and we can't lose three," Wright said. "If we're going to get where we want to go, we're going to have play defense."At the pregame meal, I told everybody that if we can control the game from the start we can control the whole game," Wright added.He was right.Cincinnati led 27-15 after a first half that saw the Bearcats shoot 29.0 percent (9 of 31) and the Scarlet Knights managed to make just 4 of 19 (21.1 percent).Cincinnati scored the first six points of the second half for a 33-15 lead. Rutgers never threatened until the final minute when the Scarlet Knights got within 64-56.That was all done with defense and rebounding."We were trying to get back to being one of the best defensive teams in the Big East, if not the country," Cronin said. "To beat quality teams we have to get back to holding teams near 36 percent shooting."The Scarlet Knights shot 37.7 percent (20 of 53) and the Bearcats finished with a 41-34 advantage on the boards."We won the game in the first half by getting separation through rebounding and defense. Cash Wright was off the charts. He controlled the game. We tried to keep the ball in his hands and he responded with 33 minutes and no turnovers against a team coming after him because they were behind. Tremendous effort by him."JaQuon Parker added 11 points and Sean Kilpatrick had 10 for the Bearcats (14-3, 2-2 Big East), who are 6-0 on the road this season and that's good news because this was the opening game of a seven-game stretch with five on the road."I think it feels like you're playing with house money," Wright said of playing on the road. "You go out and play and don't worry about the fans. We're all one. Win or lose we go home together and that's the attitude we take."Myles Mack had 15 points for Rutgers (11-4, 2-2), which had won two straight and seven of eight. The Scarlet Knights are 2-2 under coach Mike Rice since he returned from a three-game school-imposed suspension for inappropriate behavior.Eli Carter, Rutgers' leading scorer at 16.7 per game, was 1 for 11 from the field -- 0 for 6 from 3-point range -- and finished with six points. He was 3 for 14 from the field against St. John's, making him 4 for 25 in his last two games."I just have to make shots when I'm open. Nothing different," Carter said. "Obviously I have to play better. It's a huge learning experience. We let this one slip away."The game was almost 5 minutes old before either team made a field goal.Parker hit a 3 with 15:06 left to give the Bearcats a 4-0 lead. Thirty-two seconds later Mike Poole hit a foul line jumper to bring Rutgers within 4-2.The first team to double figures was Cincinnati and the game was 12:14 in when Sean Kilpatrick hit a driving jumper to make it 11-5. Rutgers finally needed a second column on the scoreboard when Austin Johnson hit a jumper with 4:25 left to bring the Scarlet Knights within 21-11.Rutgers' first-half total was one point better than the lowest it ever had in the Big East, against Pittsburgh in 2003.The win was Cronin's 127th at Cincinnati breaking a tie for third place with Gale Catlett.Rutgers was looking for its first 3-1 start since joining the Big East. The Scarlet Knights had beaten four of the last six ranked teams to visit the Rutgers Athletic Center, including then-No. 24 Pittsburgh in its previous home game."We have to learn from this. We're going to be in this spot again taking the next step forward," Rice said. "We've got to learn that, in the Big East, if things aren't going well you don't rely on the jump shot. You have to score in the paint, you have to draw contact, you have to get to the free throw line. It's not like we stopped playing hard -- we held a tremendous team to 37 percent shooting. Our pressure was effective in the second half, we just never finished a possession off in the second half. Playing a little soft in the first half and a lot of not finishing in the second half was a deadly equation."