Cincinnati's ability to win close games has triggered a late-season surge by the Bearcats.

They have won five of their last six games after a 70-69 victory at Tulsa on Wednesday night. Cincinnati (8-8, 6-5) will host Tulane (9-10, 4-10) in an American Athletic Conference game Friday.

"I told (the players) after the game," Bearcats coach John Brannen said, "'There's nothing wrong with winning by 10 or 15. I'd like to sit down and just watch the last two minutes. But for some reason we're just not there yet."

But they are in sole possession of fifth place in the American, which gives byes to the top five seeds in the conference tournament. Cincinnati's surge has come in the wake of a 25-day shutdown due to COVID-19 protocols.

The Bearcats' last five wins have come by a combined margin of 10 points. Their lone loss in that stretch was by 38 points at Houston last Sunday.

"It goes back to the character of our young men and their toughness," Brannen said. "Each time we've had to answer the bell they've done that, particularly since we've been out of our pause."

Tulane hasn't had a pause as long as that of Cincinnati, but coach Ron Hunter caught COVID-19 and was away from the team for nearly two weeks in January.

Hunter said he was "coaching angry" earlier in the season.

"I'd never been that sick in my life before," he said. "That wasn't me. I was waking up in a bad mood. I was getting on people for no reason. I can only coach one way, and if I'm not having fun and enjoying it, then I'm not a good person or a good coach."

Hunter and his players said he has gone back to being himself since returning from COVID.

Sophomore Jaylen Forbes said Hunter is still coaching "in a hard way, but it's more relaxed."

"It gives everybody more confidence," Forbes added, "and confidence is a big thing with basketball."

Tulane, which has no seniors, was more competitive after Hunter's return. It had won three games and lost the other four by a combined 18 points before suffering through a poor shooting performance in a 61-46 loss at Memphis on Wednesday.

--Field Level Media

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