Titus Rubles tied his career-high with 14 points for Cincinnati against North Carolina State, but he made his biggest contribution on defense.
The Bearcats senior forward led the defensive effort that limited Wolfpack scoring leader T.J. Warren to 13 points – five in the second half and fewer than half of the 27 he scored in N.C. State’s opener – as Cincinnati came from behind and pulled away for a 68-57 win on Wednesday.
“He’s a catalyst,” Rubles said. “He’s the best player on their team. With any team, if you stop their best player and make the other players try to beat you, you’ve got a good chance at any time.”
Sean Kilpatrick scored 21 points and Justin Jackson finished with his first career double-double – 10 points and 10 rebounds – and four blocked shots as Cincinnati outrebounded N.C. State by seven, 43-36, while improving to 2-0 before a crowd of 7,028.
According to Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, the Bearcats’ strategy was to use their press to wear down an undermanned Wolfpack, which used just eight players to Cincinnati’s 11.
“Obviously, in the second half, our defense was the difference in the game,” said Cronin, whose team held N.C. State to 26.7 percent (8-of-30) from the field and 3-of-9 on free throws in the second half. “We wanted to keep them off the free throw line and limit their second shots. Maybe the press had a little effect on that. I hope it had a wearing affect. We were trying to use our depth to our advantage, and wear them down as best we could.”
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried considered the game a learning experience.
“I thought the difference in the game was learning how to execute under duress,” he said. “That is where you become a well-oiled machine, when you can handle somebody’s pressure and get the right shots and make shots. We didn’t do that down the stretch.”
Warren tied Jackson for the lead with 10 rebounds, giving the N.C. State sophomore his first double-double in two games, and Ralston Turner scored 13 points while Desmond Lee added 10 for N.C. State (1-1).
The win was just the second for the Bearcats in eight games against the Wolfpack, which has just one senior on the roster.
The teams combined for 12 ties and eight lead changes.
Kilpatrick scored five unanswered points on two free throws and a 3-pointer to give Cincinnati a 51-48 lead with 9:45 left in the game.
Cincinnati went on to lead by 14 before settling for the 11-point win. The Bearcats made 23 free throws, while N.C. State only attempted 21, making 12. Both teams shot under 40 percent for the game.
N.C. State was called for a technical foul with 1:07 left in the second half for having six players on the floor.
The game, part of the Global Sports Shootout, was the second of seven straight home games to open the season for Cincinnati, which is scheduled to play Appalachian State on Saturday. N.C. State returns home to face Campbell on Saturday.
Neither team led by more than five points in an evenly played first half that included 10 ties and six lead changes before ending with a 35-35 score. N.C. State was 11-of-28 from the field, while the Bearcats were 11-of-27.