The experiment blew up quickly. The Bearcats went their final 17 possessions of the first half with five more turnovers than baskets. They had one hoop and two free throws in the final 9 1/2 minutes of the half. It got so frustrating that Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin got a technical for arguing a no-call and, if the officials had not looked away, might have gotten another one when he made his coat disappear in less than orderly fashion.
Meanwhile, the "other" Corey blew up for Villanova. Corey Fisher nearly outscored the Bearcats in the first half. He could not miss from deep. He got to the foul line at will and did not miss from there.
Villanova stretched a two-point lead before the Cincy implosion out to 16 by halftime. The Wildcats nursed major foul trouble (all five starters finished with four fouls) through a very uneven second half and won semi-uncomfortably, 72-61.
"When you're in that situation with a lead, you're thinking this is good for us," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of the foul trouble. "If we would have been down, I don't think we would have kept them out [as long]."
Fisher had 20 at halftime to Cincinnati's 23. But he got his third foul just before halftime and his fourth with 11 minutes, 53 seconds left, 1 second after Mouphtaou Yarou had gotten his fourth. Fisher scored just one point in 10 second-half minutes.
Not quite 3 minutes later, Maalik Wayns got his fourth foul and Villanova was without a ballhandler with nearly 9 minutes of play left and an opponent that was just starting to get its legs. Wright saved Fisher for the end, but spotted Wayns much more. And the sophomore played about as fearlessly as he usually does.
"I kept trying to play my same game," Wayns said. "If I took my aggressiveness away, my game is not the same."
And his coach kept trying to figure out a way to keep his team in front.
"It was crazy," Wright said. "We were platoon subbing. We had lines going in there."
Twice, Cincinnati got within seven, but the Bearcats could not make a long shot (2-for-20 from the arc) and simply had too much to overcome.
Bearcats big man Ibrahima Thomas may have set an NCAA record at the start of the second half. He was called for a foul while his team made a shot. He fouled Yarou at the other end and argued the call. That got him a technical, which also counts as a personal. He went from two fouls to gone in 20 seconds. His team hung around for a while, but, even though they got within seven a few times in the second half, never had enough offense to catch up.
"We got down too far in the first half," Cronin said. "That possession in the second half where Thomas got the foul, well, there was a foul called on Thomas for standing straight up and down. Then, he got an unacceptable technical. That was a huge play, just pushed the lead too far [46-25]."
No. 7 Villanova (14-1, 3-0 Big East) did not help itself with 19 turnovers, but the 24th-ranked Bearcats (15-1, 2-1) were going to have to make a few long shots and some foul shots to win. They outscored 'Nova by 20 points in the lane, but missed 10 of 25 from the line while Villanova was making 28 of 33.
"You couldn't have better effort in the second half than we had," Cronin said. "Our guys never stopped believing."
And they played that way, probably even converted a few skeptics that saw the game and not just the final score.
"They have a great team and they're at home and we lose by 11," Cronin said. "We bury ourselves and we're 2-for-20 from the three-point line. When I look at the stat sheet, I want to know why we didn't get beat 30."
On a day when Corey Stokes finally missed some shots and the Wildcats played long stretches with a lineup they really don't want to play with, they held on to win against a team that may not be as good as its record, but was good enough to keep playing and make everybody in the gym sweat it down the stretch.