David DeJulius scored 21 points in 21 minutes and the University of Cincinnati men's basketball team pulled away from Alabama A&M 89-66 Tuesday night at Fifth Third Arena to improve to 3-0 under first-year head coach Wes Miller.
Mike Saunders Jr. scored 14 points, Ody Oguama added 13 points and eight rebounds, and Jeremiah Davenport chipped in with 12 points, all coming from 3-point range, to lead the Bearcats, who outscored the Bulldogs 52-34 in the second half.
"As I told the guys in the locker room, winning's winning," Miller said. "It matters, and we're always going to appreciate it and enjoy it. So I'm proud of us finding a way to win."
After storming out to an 11-4 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Davenport and DeJulius, the Bearcats found themselves in a tight battle into the second half.
After a John Newman III turnover, Alabama A&M pulled within 39-36 with 17:40 to play. Davenport slammed the ball down on the court in frustration and Miller called a timeout.
"The guys were already talking amongst themselves before I even got into the timeout," Miller said. "I thought for the next eight or nine minutes we were pretty darn good. I thought we guarded. I thought we played aggressively but within our structure offensively, and some really good things happened to us. We were able to push a lead out and it was difficult for Alabama A&M for the rest of the way from there."
Following the timeout, the Bearcats put together a 13-0 run and never looked back.
Up next: Cincinnati closes out its four-game, season-opening homestand Thursday against Presbyterian. Tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. on ESPN+.
Here's what we learned from Tuesday's win:
DeJulius continues to show improved jumper
The 6-foot senior guard, who hasn't shot the ball well in his college career (either at Cincinnati or Michigan) has obviously been putting in the work.
DeJulius made eight of his 14 attempts on Tuesday, including three shots from beyond the arc, to lead the Bearcats offensively.
"Just coming off of last game, my mindset was just staying aggressive," DeJulius said. "Just putting in the extra work and letting everything fall however they were going to fall."
Miller said he's going to continue to put a lot on DeJulius' plate, not just getting him more shots but giving him the opportunity to create shots for his teammates.
"Tonight, they played a funky zone and it had us a little discombobulated," Miller said. "I thought David's pace and his ball fakes just kind of settled him down and settled our team down and then created some really good openings for him and our team."
UC's defense can be suffocating
Alabama A&M forward Jalen Johnson, who entered the game averaging a team-high 14 points per game, finished with 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
Both Indianapolis natives, Saunders and Johnson played against each other in high school.
"He got going," Saunders said. "I mean, he's always played like that. That's exactly how his game is. It worked for him. He had it going tonight. It was just his game. But I'm just glad we got the win. That's all that matters."
Johnson got his, but that was it offensively for the Bulldogs (1-2).
After shooting better than 41% from the field in the first half, Alabama A&M couldn't find any open lanes or create any open shots against the Bearcats' defense in the second half.
Cincinnati held Alabama A&M to 33% shooting (11-for-33) after intermission.
Great FT shooting by the Bearcats
In addition to playing relentless defense, Cincinnati made its foul shots down the stretch. The Bearcats shot 93% (13-for-14) from the free-throw line in the second half.
The sharp shooting made it impossible for Alabama A&M to gain any ground.
McGinnis suffers game-ending injury
Cincinnati sophomore guard A.J. McGinnis had to be helped off the court and into the locker room after suffering a left ankle injury toward the end of the first half.
McGinnis, who was unable to put any pressure on the injured ankle, did not return.
"Yeah, I'm down about that," Miller said. "He's gotten the short end of the stick here at the start of the year in terms of the rotation. As coaches sometimes, we just have to make decisions. That's our job. As I tell the guys all the time, I'm trying to be right and I'm trying to make decisions for the right reason. What's best for our team, right? That's how you're always trying to make decisions. And he was the guy in the first couple games that just maybe got the short end of the stick. I don't even know if I was right, but just trying to be right. He got some opportunity tonight with Vik (Viktor Lakhin) being out. I think he's been waiting for that opportunity. To see him go down with an ankle, I feel for him. We're going to need him this year so we need him to get back. We'll know a lot more tomorrow. It's hard to say with an ankle sprain until the next day."
The injury happened while McGinnis was attempting a shot in front of the Alabama A&M bench with 57 seconds left before halftime.
The UNC Greensboro transfer scored his only points of the night on a 3-pointer at the 10:22 mark in the first half.
Lakhin not active for first time
Cincinnati forward Viktor Lakhin did not suit up for the first time this season due to an ankle injury Miller said Lakhin suffered prior to the game against Georgia on Saturday.
"It swelled up on him really good that night and the next morning, as we thought it would," Miller said. "So we were being pretty cautious with him tonight. I thought it was the right decision given his history of injury. We need him for the long haul so we'd rather try to get him back to 100% before we throw him back out there."
The 6-foot-11, 245-pound Lakhin entered the night averaging eight points and 4.5 rebounds in just more than 15 minutes per game off the bench for Miller through the first two games after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
Lakhin also has three blocks and three steals this season.