December 14, 2015

A disheartening loss to its crosstown rival ended up having no effect on Cincinnati's spot in the Top 25.

The No. 23 Bearcats' next two games give them a much-needed chance to bounce back and tune up for their next big matchup.

The first of those comes Tuesday night against visiting Norfolk State in the teams' first meeting.

Cincinnati (8-2) fell behind then-No. 12 Xavier by 18 in the first half Saturday and went on to a 65-55 loss, its third straight in the series. The Bearcats shot 40.4 percent and were 7 of 26 from 3-point range, struggling against Xavier's 1-3-1 zone defense.

''In the first half, we were just lazy on the defensive end, getting back in transition,'' said guard Troy Caupain, who had 10 points and six assists but went 3 of 10 from the field. ''They had a lot of transition baskets and were getting to the glass.''

Cincinnati scored the first 10 points after the break to cut the Musketeers' lead to six, but too much went wrong for the Bearcats, who committed 16 turnovers and forced only 10. Xavier shot 48.2 percent and 40.0 from beyond the arc.

"Ultimately, you're never going to beat a team that's going to be ranked in the top 10, you're not going to beat a team like that with 16 turnovers," coach Mick Cronin told the team's official website. "You're just not going to have any chance to win. So really, any other question about strategy is a moot point. And proof of that is their best player (Trevon Bluiett) scored three points and they win.

"They're in control of most of the game. That's because of our turnovers. We didn't give ourselves a chance."

Despite that defeat and a home loss to Butler on Dec. 2, Cincinnati remained in the poll Monday, maintaining its ranking from last week.

The Bearcats likely won't enjoy the same fate if they lose to Norfolk State (4-5) or VCU on Saturday. Cincinnati needs the two games to sharpen up, as a showdown with No. 5 Iowa State on Dec. 22 looms after these contests.

The Spartans are coming off an 81-60 loss at Northern Kentucky - just outside Cincinnati - on Sunday. Norfolk State allowed the Norse to shoot 57.4 percent from the field - 11 of 20 from 3-point range - while making 34.5 percent themselves.

Guard Jeff Short, averaging a team-high 17.2 points, was limited to 10 on 4-of-15 shooting. D'Shon Taylor went 0 for 4 and scored four points - 10 below his average - while Charles Oliver shot 2 of 9.

Norfolk State, which had won three in a row, has dropped five straight to ranked opponents and 13 in a row on the road against Top 25 teams since the start of the 2000-01 season.

The Spartans will be playing the third in a stretch of seven straight on the road. They don't play at home again until Jan. 5.

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