Sean Kilpatrick made all 16 of his free throws and scored 32 points, leading No. 22 Cincinnati to a 78-70 win over Iowa State on Friday night in the semifinals of the Global Sports Classic.
"I knew it was going to be a tight game in the first half," Cronin said. "Two teams playing a major opponent for the first time this season. Things were bound to get sloppy."
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After winning their first four games by an average margin of 34.5 points per game, the Bearcats (5-0) had their hands full with a talented Iowa State (4-1) team that stole the momentum in the first half, dictated the pace at times to keep things close and pulled within 4 points with 46 seconds left.
Cashmere Wright added 14 points for the Bearcats and Titus Rubles had 10 points.
The Bearcats will face Oregon in the championship.
Cincinnati's early second-half run of 15-5 gave it enough breathing room to secure the win. The Bearcats, who came in shooting 51.3 percent from the field (including 42.2 percent from 3-point range), shot just 25 of their 60 attempts (41.7) from the floor. They hit just 25 percent (5 of 20) of their 3-pointers.
Cronin stressed before the start his concern for his team's lackluster efforts in the first-half of games, and it was evident why after his Bearcats struggled after taking a 10-4 lead with 15:53 left in the opening half.
Playing at a frenetic pace and not being able to find a rhythm, the Bearcats let the Cyclones dictate much of the pace to get back into the game. Using an 11-3 run to take a 15-13 lead at the 13-minute mark, the Cyclones stole the momentum. Neither team took a lead bigger than four points after Cincinnati's early six-point edge, while there were eight lead changes over the first 20 minutes. The teams were tied at 35 at halftime.
"We weren't organized," Cronin said. "We just got sloppy on offense. We have to learn how to play better with a lead. Teams can hurt us because we spread the floor and they get physical with our bigs. We're actually used to that in the Big East; we just hadn't seen it yet."
"Once we got organized we were able to box out and we were able to score multiple times," he added.
Cronin also said there was an urgency for his team to show improvement at the free throw line, where they came into the game shooting 53.2 percent. Kilpatrick, who entered just 5 of 13 from the stripe, was a perfect 16 of 16 Friday. As a team, the Bearcats shot 92 percent (23-of-25) from the line.
"I've been shooting free throws since I was 5 or 6 years old," Kilpatrick said. "I just got out there and didn't think about it. That's when things go wrong, when you think about it too much. So I just shot them like I know how I can."
Iowa State, which was looking to start 5-0 for the third time in four years, was also facing its first true test after winning its first four games by an average 32.5 points. The Cyclones came into the game shooting nearly 49.6 percent from the floor, but struggled against the Bearcats with 37.3 percent (25 of 67).
"We cut our turnovers in half, from 12 to six, and that's what allowed us to make that (second-half) comeback," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Iowa State's Tyrus McGee led his team with 22 points, Korie Lucious scored 12 and Melvin Ejim had seven points and 10 rebounds.
Cincinnati has won three of the four meetings all-time with Iowa State, the last three coming at neutral sites. This was the first matchup between the schools since then-No. 1 Cincinnati beat Iowa State 75-60 on Nov. 28, 1999, in Hilo, Hawaii.