An ugly brawl erupted with 9.4 seconds left in the game. Benches cleared, fists flew. Xavier's senior All-America guard Tu Holloway readily admitted afterward that he was taunting Cincinnati players and coaches in front of Cincinnati's bench, as the clock wound down. What ensued was a basketball brawl as ugly as any in memory. At one point, Xavier center Kenny Frease emerged from the pile on all fours, blood dripping from a gash below his left cheek, courtesy of a punch thrown by Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates.
The referees stopped the game at that point. There will be suspensions, though nothing had been announced as of 6 p.m. Saturday. Expect Holloway, Gates, Cincinnati center Cheikh Mbodj and possibly Xavier freshman forward Dez Wells to be suspended, possibly for multiple games.
Mbodj is seen in video stepping on Frease after he was down; Wells shoved a UC player early in the fight.
"We're grown men over here,'' Holloway explained. "We got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room. Not thugs, but tough guys on the court.''
When asked why he taunted the Cincinnati bench and thus had a big hand in inciting the fracas, Holloway said he had been "disrespected.'' It was a reference to Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick saying during a local radio interview Thursday that he was better than Holloway, and that Holloway would not start on Cincinnati's team.
"This is my city,'' Holloway explained. "I'm cut from a different cloth. None of them guys on their team is like me. We got disrespected. Maybe it looked bad to you (media), but this is what I'm used to. This is where I'm from. This wasn't bad.''
Holloway is from Hempstead, on Long Island, but enjoys talking about his days playing summer-league ball in New York.
"On our side, on their side, guys need to grow up. There is zero excuse for that. The world doesn't revolve around them.'' Cronin said he made his players remove their jerseys immediately after the game, and doesn't know when he will allow them to wear the jerseys again.
"That's so they have a full understanding of where they go to school, what the university stands for and how lucky they are to even be there. A whole lot of kids can't pay for college.
"(Players) need to have respect that they are on scholarship and people come to see them play. They're (representing) institutions of higher learning. I go to a school where they discovered a vaccine for polio. I think that's more important than who wins a basketball game.''
Anyone not convinced that Xavier-Cincinnati is the best, hottest-blooded city rivalry in quasi-amateur hoops needs simply to watch how this one ended. The schools are four miles apart and have played 79 times. The coaches, Cronin and Xavier's Chris Mack, graduated from the schools they're coaching now. They were teammates as kids and high school foes in the city.
The blood has always been bad between the schools. One is public and sprawling, with 40,000 students. The other is private and compact, with 4,000 students. One or both has been nationally ranked for 17 of the last 23 years, when the game was played.
On Saturday, the Musketeers started slowly. UC had the game at its pace and its style: Slow and banging. Holloway didn't have a field goal for the first 15 minutes. Then, he took over: A seeing-eye assist that resulted in a breakaway dunk by Wells; two free throws after a drive into the lane, and a three-pointer from the left wing, in about three minutes.
Meantime, Holloway's backcourt partner, Mark Lyons, was scoring on a layup at the end of a fast break, and drilling a three-pointer in the face of Kilpatrick. A 17-15 Cincinnati lead became a 34-25 Xavier halftime edge. Once the Musketeers were able to speed the pace, they couldn't be caught.
Especially impressive was Wells, the 6-foot-5 freshman who had 14 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes. Xavier also goes 10-deep; the numbers wore down the Bearcats, whose bench is thin.
Ranked in the top 20 preseason nationally, the Bearcats have a hard time scoring. Kilpatrick's pregame comments did him no favors. In the face of a Xavier student body taunting him with chants of "Who's Kil-pat-rick?'' UC's leading scorer had just one field goal in the game's first 31 minutes, and that came off a goaltending call. He finished with 11 points and made just one of eight three-pointers.
Without much from Kilpatrick or senior guard Dion Dixon (4-for-16), Cincinnati had to over-rely on Gates. Gates (18 points, 12 rebounds) feasted on Frease and junior Travis Taylor. It wasn't nearly enough. This was a game in which the Bearcats hoped to regain national relevance, after losses to Presbyterian and Marshall. They didn't come close.