Southeastern Louisiana's head coach Jay Ladner directs his players from the bench in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Cincinnati, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
John Minchillo
November 24, 2015

CINCINNATI (AP) For the first time all season, No. 24 Cincinnati had a game on its hands in the final minutes. The Bearcats started playing like a ranked team.

Troy Caupain and Jacob Evans III scored 15 points apiece and led a closing surge that carried poor-shooting Cincinnati to a 64-49 victory over Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday night.

Playing as a ranked team for the first time in two seasons, the Bearcats (5-0) struggled to make shots and led by only three points midway through the second half - their first close call of the season.

''We had not been in a game, so it's good for us to get in a little bit of a game, maybe wake our guys up a little bit,'' coach Mick Cronin said. ''We're not very tough right now. Things have been too easy for us, way too easy for us.''

Evans made a pair of free throws and back-to-back 3s that helped Cincinnati pull away down the stretch, finishing with a career high. Gary Clark had 12 points and eight rebounds.

Southeastern Louisiana (1-4) was coming off a coming off 92-65 loss at Nebraska on Sunday. Despite the travel and the quick turnaround, the Lions stayed with Cincinnati until the closing minutes. Zay Jackson had a team-high 15 points.

''Frankly, we got embarrassed the other night at Nebraska,'' coach Jay Ladner said. ''We weren't happy with the effort. We worked their tails off yesterday and this morning, too. We were having a full-scale practice. It was a day of practice and I am glad with the way they responded.''

In the first four games, Cincinnati's opponents packed in their defenses to protect the basket. The Lions were the first team to play so much man-to-man defense, and the Bearcats struggled against it.

''We weren't hitting shots the way we normally were, so we had to find a different way,'' said Caupain, who went 5 of 11 from the field. ''It's the first time we had coach actually get on our backs, tell us what it really was.''

The Bearcats jumped into the Top 25 by blowing out opponents and shooting 50.8 percent from the field. They scored their 385 points in their first four games, their highest season-opening total since 1976-77.

The points were much harder to get on Tuesday night. Midway through the second half, the Bearcats were shooting 34 percent from the field and led only 38-35.

In the closing minutes, they hit four 3s in a row - the first two by Evans - as they pulled away.

Cincinnati couldn't make a 3 at the outset. The Bearcats missed their first six shots from beyond the arc before Clark connected during a 14-2 run that put Cincinnati ahead 23-11. Daniel Grieves made a 3-pointer and a jumper during a nine-point run that kept the Lions close.

Cincinnati led 30-22 at halftime, shooting 34.5 percent from the field and 2 of 11 from beyond the arc.

It didn't get any better in the second half. Cincinnati missed seven of its first 11 shots, helping the Lions hang in there.

HOLD ONTO THE BALL

Southeastern Louisiana came in averaging 10 steals per game - 17th nationally - but forced only 11 turnovers.

NO FREE THROWS

The Bearcats were coming off a 99-50 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff in which they tied the school record with 59 free throws. Against the Lions, they went 12 of 17 from the line. Southeastern Louisiana was 4 of 5.

TIP-INS

Southeastern Louisiana: Joshua Filmore was only 4 of 17 from beyond the arc heading into the game. He made the Lions' first three baskets - all 3-pointers from the right corner - but finished 4 of 11 from beyond the arc.

Cincinnati: Farad Cobb had made 10 of his 17 3-point shots in last two games. He was only 1 of 4 on Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Southeastern Louisiana: The Lions play Gardner-Webb in the Barclays Center Classic.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats play Nebraska on Friday in the Brooklyn Hoops Classic.

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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