NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin likes using boxing references to describe his team’s hard-nosed style.
The Bearcats waited until the final few rounds to deliver a knockout punch Friday.
Jarron Cumberland set career highs with 27 points and 11 rebounds as Cincinnati recovered after blowing a 10-point lead in the second half to beat pesky Georgia State 68-53 in the NCAA Tournament.
“The key to our defense has been it’s almost like a 15-round fight,” Cronin said. “We feel the other team out. We make adjustments, and the kids do a great job with it. They step up their defensive intensity.”
Cincinnati, the No. 2 seed in the South Region, won its eighth game in a row and advanced to a Sunday matchup against seventh-seeded Nevada (28-7). Nevada beat Texas 87-83 in overtime.
After trailing 42-32 early in the second half, 15th-seeded Georgia State (24-11) rallied to take a pair of one-point leads, its last one coming on a driving bank shot from D’Marcus Simonds with 9:30 remaining.
Cincinnati (31-4) answered by reeling off 10 straight points as part of a 17-2 run.
“We just played Cincinnati basketball,” said Cumberland, who had his first career double-double. “We’re known for defense, and we just focused on our game plan.”
Gary Clark, the American Athletic Conference player of the year, put Cincinnati back in front by sinking a 3-pointer with 9:02 left. Kyle Washington added two straights baskets before Jacob Evans III provided the exclamation point by sinking a baseline 3-pointer that gave the Bearcats a 56-47 edge with 6:19 remaining.
Cincinnati’s lead didn’t drop below seven the rest of the way.
“You could really just feel the experience they had, honestly,” Simonds said. “You could tell they had been in the NCAA Tournament before. They were awesome specimens, honestly. They were strong. They were athletic.”
Simonds, the Sun Belt Conference player of the year, scored 24 points. He had Georgia State’s first 16 points — all in the first seven minutes — to help Georgia State lead for most of the first half.
“Simonds can play for anybody,” Cronin said. “They should have been about a 13 seed in all reality. When you get a draw and have got a guy like Simonds on the other team, he could be the MVP of our league. .. We talked about last night we have to wear him down, (that) hopefully he has to do too much, so he gets tired.”
Washington scored 13 points for Cincinnati, while Clark had 11 points and 13 rebounds Simonds, the Sun Belt Conference player of the year scored 24 for Georgia State.
Georgia State was trying to repeat its 2015 NCAA run, when it produced a first-round upset of Baylor as a No. 14 seed. This time, Georgia State simply didn’t have quite enough at the end.
Georgia State: The Panthers have a negative rebound margin this season, and their inability to compete on the glass proved costly Friday. Cincinnati outrebounded Georgia State 46-26 and had a 24-7 edge in second-chance points.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats passed a big test by overcoming some adversity Friday. Now they’ll continue trying to end their recent March frustration. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has built a perennial NCAA Tournament team, but the Bearcats haven’t reached the regional semifinals since 2012.
RETURN OF THE STOOL
During Georgia State’s last NCAA Tournament appearance, Panthers coach Ron Hunter worked from a stool after tearing his Achilles while celebrating his team’s Sun Belt Conference title. When his son made the game-winning shot against Baylor, Hunter fell off his stool and became one of the feel-good stories of that tournament’s opening weekend.
The Panthers brought the stool from that 2014 tournament to Nashville as a good-luck charm, though a healthy Hunter was standing throughout this game.
“They man-ate us on the glass,” Hunter said. “That’s about the best I can say. Maneater, they man-ate us on the glass, buddy. We knew that was going to be a problem. That’s what they do.”
Cincinnati plays No. 7 seed Nevada in a second-round game Sunday.
Georgia State gets ready for the 2018-19 season. The only senior starter departing from this season’s team is forward Jordan Session.
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