By JOE KAY
CINCINNATI — No technical fouls. No flying elbows. No rubbing it in. In a new setting, the city’s annual crosstown basketball game was back to being a good old rivalry.
And a rather amicable one at that.
Sean Kilpatrick scored 25 points and led a second-half surge that carried No. 11 Cincinnati to a 60-45 victory over Xavier on Wednesday night, renewing their rivalry one year after it was marred by a brawl.
Cincinnati (11-0) won its 18th straight game at a downtown arena that is the rivalry’s stage for the next two years, an attempt to take the nasty edge off the annual game. The first one met most expectations.
“I thought it was great,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “If it’s the city’s game, we’ve got to play in downtown Cincinnati and let the fans come. I’m also a firm believer that what happened last year, anybody that’s been around the game saw it coming for three years.
“It eliminates the hatred that gets spewed in the on-campus environment and keeps it positive for everybody.”
The game was moved downtown and given a new name — the Crosstown Classic instead of the Crosstown Shootout — after last year’s ugly finish.
Xavier was unbeaten and ranked No. 8 when it beat the Bearcats 76-53 on the Musketeers’ home court last season. With 9.4 seconds left, words were exchanged, the basketball was flung and fists started flying — the darkest moment in the rivalry’s 80-game history.
For a while, the schools considered calling off the annual game. Instead, they moved it off-campus. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center also became a partner, emphasizing the game’s place in the community.
“Last year was something that’s not going to happen again,” Xavier guard Brad Redford said. “Both of these teams have a lot of respect for each other. So I guess it’s good to get last year’s game off our backs. I’m glad they allowed us to play each other.”
The game drew 14,528 fans to the arena, which seats 16,264 for basketball. Having fans from both teams in the stands gave it a different feel.
“I loved it, personally,” said Cincinnati point guard Cashmere Wright, who had 15 points. “You’ve got the two sides. They scored, their crowd went crazy. We scored, our crowd went crazy. It kept going back and forth. For the first time that this happened, it was a great experience.”
The schools’ presidents, athletics directors and mascots met courtside before the game, shaking hands while photographers snapped away. They jointly presented a check for $50,000 to the Freedom Center. Xavier and Cincinnati fans were seated on opposite sides of the arena. The schools’ dance teams performed together at halftime.
Both schools hoped for a clean, exciting game so they could finally get past last year’s ugliness.
They got it.
The Bearcats got the better of it in the second half behind Kilpatrick, who scored nine points in a 17-4 run that put them ahead to stay. Travis Taylor led Xavier (7-3) with 12 points.
Cincinnati had a lot in its favor. The Bearcats play at the downtown arena regularly. They also have a much deeper lineup, a lot more experience and a high-scoring offense driven by their three guards.
Xavier took away the Bearcats’ fast-break offense at the outset and turned it into a half-court game that was more the Musketeers’ style. And, for most of the first half, they got the best of it.
Cincinnati opened in a 4-for-25 shooting slump, missing five shots in the paint on one possession. Three-pointers by point guard Dee Davis and Redford gave the Musketeers a 16-11 lead. Xavier wasted chances to stretch the lead by missing all of its six free throws in the half, but stayed ahead for the last 13 minutes and led 24-22 at the break.
Kilpatrick, Cincinnati’s leading scorer, was only 3 of 12 from the field in the first half. He led the way as the Bearcats took control to start the second half.
Kilpatrick had two steals and scored nine points during the 17-4 run that opened the second half and made it 39-28. The Bearcats increased their defensive intensity, forcing four turnovers during their go-ahead run. Xavier had only seven turnovers in the first half.
“When I saw lanes, I just started driving and whatever happened, happened,” said Kilpatrick, who was 10 of 27 from the field. “They were cutting off certain angles, so my spin move was working. I was just being aggressive.”
Davis went to the bench midway through the half to get treatment for a cramp in his left calf. Shooting guard Semaj Christon — Xavier’s top scorer — also had to leave with cramping, leaving the Musketeers at a disadvantage against the press.
“We go into halftime feeling good about where we were and what we needed to do in the second half, then UC really showed up with their defensive pressure,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “They really rattled us early on in the second half with their pressure. We knew it was coming and we made some ill-advised decisions and some lazy passes that really swung the momentum in their favor.”
The Musketeers cut the lead to eight, but Kilpatrick hit another 3 that pushed it to 51-40 with 6:09 left. The lead never got below double digits again. As the game wound down, some Cincinnati fans chanted “Zip ‘em up,” a reference to a comment Xavier’s Tu Holloway made after the 23-point win last year.