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No. 1 Bearcats Struggle, But Win

Top-ranked Cincinnati looked rattled early and often Thursday night, with one notable exception.

While his teammates had trouble shooting, rebounding and passing in the hostile environment of Halton Arena, senior center Kenyon Martin reveled in it. He laughed at the taunts of North Carolina Charlotte's fans, invited them to heap it on more and even danced to the music of the 49ers' pep band during timeouts.

And when the Bearcats had secured a 70-62 victory, Martin broke into a huge grin, stuck out his tongue and trotted off the floor.

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  • "I'm just out there having fun," Martin said. "If you're not having fun, why play?"

    Martin scored 10 of the Bearcats' first 14 points, helping them weather 10 turnovers in the opening nine minutes in a building that has become their least favorite in Conference USA.

    Martin finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, making the difference for the Bearcats (21-1, 9-0) on a night when their 18 turnovers nearly translated into a third straight loss at Halton.

    "It's a tough place to play, no doubt," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "But it has a lot to do with the guys coaching and the guys playing."

    Harassed in deafening tones by a sellout crowd of 9,105, the Bearcats saw a 12-point second-half lead cut to two with 8:46 remaining before composing themselves for their 13th consecutive victory.

    "It's just a rowdy environment. You've just got to learn to live with it," Martin said. "Teams are going to make their runs. You've got to be mean and stand up to it, and I think we did a good job of that."

    North Carolina Charlotte (12-9, 4-4) lost for the first time in eight home games this season.

    "I guess t looks pretty good that we hung with the No. 1 team, but we're not about close games here," North Carolina Charlotte's Jobey Thomas said. "We're about winning."

    The Bearcats shot 44 percent in the first game of a tough road trip. After ending the 49ers' perfect home mark, Cincinnati plays Saturday at Alabama-Birmingham, which is 10-0 at home this season.

    "I'm sure Cincinnati feels they didn't play their best game," North Carolina Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. "And I feel we had something to do with that."

    Thomas scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half to lead the 49ers, who also got 13 points from James Zimmerman and 10 from Tremaine Gardiner.

    Cincinnati's Kenny Satterfield had nine of his 13 points in the second half.

    The Bearcats showed signs of what was ahead by turning the ball over on their first two possessions. Cincinnati's jitters cleared the way for North Carolina Charlotte to go on an 11-0 run in which the 49ers scored seven points off turnovers.

    The surge put North Carolina Charlotte up 11-5 nine minutes into the game, at which point Cincinnati had turned it over 10 times and missed four of its five field goal attempts.

    But the 49ers, playing much of the half without their best inside threat, the foul-plagued Gardiner, and their most consistent outside threat, flu-ridden point guard Diego Guevara, wound up shooting 19 percent in the half.

    North Carolina Charlotte's woes, which included a 1-for-16 performance from beyond the 3-point arc, enabled Cincinnati to score the final nine points for a 28-17 halftime lead.

    After the Bearcats stretched it to 36-24 early in the second half, North Carolina Charlotte forced four turnovers in a 19-9 run. Thomas capped the surge with a foul shot that made it 45-43 at the 8:46 mark, but the 49ers did not make another field goal for more than four minutes.

    A short jumper by Martin and a foul shot by Pete Mickeal closed a 15-7 run that pushed the Bearcats' lead to 60-50 with 2:36 left. North Carolina Charlotte got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.

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