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Struggle in Cincy leaves both coaches frustrated

From wire and staff reports

Box Score

CINCINNATI ó A game that almost became one of East Carolina's biggest road wins ever concluded instead as a deflating, down-to-the-wire loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday night.

Jason Maxiell hit one of two free throws with 4.2 seconds left, enabling heavily-favored UC to barely hang on for the 53-52 victory and avoid becoming ECU's first Conference USA victim away from home since the Pirates joined the league in the 2001-02 season.

The Pirates led by one with less than four minutes to go, but fumbled some opportunities to seize the advantage as time wound down.

Citing failures by his team to convert crucial free throws and to protect the defensive backboards down the stretch, ECU head coach Bill Herrion was in no mood to take solace in extending Cincinnati to the brink.

"We've go to get beyond moral victories so we can move forward in this program," he said in post-game remarks aired over the Pirate Sports Radio Network. "We just didn't make the plays late in the game."

Bearcats coach Bob Huggins, who had a massive heart attack on Sept. 28, sat on the bench and stewed as Cincinnati (16-8, 8-5 C-USA) struggled to build on the momentum of a 101-80 win over Louisville last Saturday.

"I just donít understand this team," Huggins lamented after the game. "This is the best time of their (the players') lives. They get four square meals a day. They have a nice roof over their head. They donít have a car payment and donít have to put food on the table for their family. By their own admission, they love to play basketball. So why is it they donít play with enthusiasm? I just donít understand it.Ē

Travis Holcomb-Faye missed a long 3-point attempt at the buzzer, leaving East Carolina (12-13, 3-11) in doubt of achieving a winning season. The Pirates have two regular season games remaining, a road contest with Louisville on Saturday and a home game against Saint Louis seven days later.

There were six ties and six lead changes in a back-and-forth second half, with neither team ahead by more than five.

Gabriel Mikulas' jumper gave East Carolina a 52-51 lead with 3:54 to go, and Maxiell's free throw tied it. The teams then took turns missing jumpers and free throws.

Cincinnati's Field Williams missed a hurried jumper with 6 seconds left, but Maxiell got the rebound and was fouled. He made the first of two free throws with 4.2 seconds left for a 53-52 lead.

East Carolina got the rebound and called timeout with 1.8 seconds left, but Holcomb-Faye didn't come close on his hurried shot from the left sideline.

Maxiell led Cincinnati with 15 points. East Carolina had four players in double figures.

Cincinnati took advantage of tight officiating against Louisville, setting school records by going 42-of-58 from the free-throw line. The officials called a more typical game Wednesday night, and the Bearcats struggled.

Cincinnati was 9-of-18 from the line, while East Carolina went 7-of-15.

The Bearcats were trying to prove they could play two good games back-to-back, something they hadn't done since mid-January. By halftime, it was clear the Bearcats weren't up to it.

Cincinnati led only 27-24 at the break, allowing one of the conference's worst teams to keep up.

The Bearcats ended a three-game losing streak by beating Oklahoma State on Feb. 9, then lost their next two. They emerged from their worst slump during Huggins' 14 seasons as coach by beating Louisville in a game that featured 93 free throws overall.

Williams made the only free throw in the first half Wednesday, completing a three-point play that gave the Bearcats a 25-17 lead, the biggest to that point.

The less-than-capacity crowd of 12,202 groaned when Holcomb-Faye made a 3-pointer, then had a steal and layup that put East Carolina ahead 43-41 midway through the second half, setting up a back-and-forth finish.

BOX SCORE

Cincinnati (16-8, 8-5) 53, East Carolina (12-13, 3-11) 52

EAST CAROLINA (52)
Player           FG      FT      PTS
Wiley            5-12    2-2     12
Bing             1-3     2-4      4
Mikulas          6-9     0-0     12
Rivers           4-12    2-2     11
Holcomb-Faye     4-11    1-5     11
Badiane          0-1     0-2      0
Moore            1-3     0-0      2
Totals           21-51   7-15    52

CINCINNATI (53)
Player           FG      FT      PTS
Stokes           5-13    3-9     13
Maxiell          5-11    5-8     15
Flowers          4-7     0-0      9
Williams         3-11    1-1      9
Barker           0-4     0-0      0
Moore            0-0     0-0      0
Lucas            0-1     0-0      0
Hicks            0-1     0-0      0
Bobbitt          2-6     0-0      5
Kirkland         1-2     0-0      2
Johnson          0-1     0-0      0
Totals           20-57   9-18    53

Halftime: Cincinnati 27, East Carolina 24.

3-point goals: East Carolina 3-12 (Rivers 1-4, Holcomb-Faye 2-6, Moore 0-2); Cincinnati 4-24 (Stokes 0-3, Maxiell 0-1, Flowers 1-3, Williams 2-9, Barker 0-2, Bobbitt 1-5, Kirkland 0-1).

Rebounds: East Carolina 37 (Wiley 9), Cincinnati 38 (Barker 9).

Assists: East Carolina 7 (Holcomb-Faye 5), Cincinnati 9 (Barker 3).

Total fouls: East Carolina 19, Cincinnati 14.

Fouled out: Mikulas.

Technical fouls: None.

Attendance: 12,202.

02/23/2007 10:56 AM

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