CINCINNATI (AP) — The old Yancy Gates fit right in with the new Cincinnati Bearcats.
The return of Gates and two other players from a six-game suspension on Wednesday did nothing to derail Cincinnati. Dion Dixon led a balanced Bearcats scoring attack with 18 points, 14 in the second half, as they extended their winning streak to seven games with a 71-55 win over Notre Dame in a Big East contest on Wednesday night.
“It felt real good,” said Gates, who scored six points and led Cincinnati with eight rebounds in 21 minutes. “It was hard watching them on TV every night. To be out there with them felt real good.”
Jaquon Parker scored 11 points, all in the second half, and Jeremiah Davis III added 10 as Cincinnati (12-3, 2-0) snapped a three-game losing streak against the Fighting Irish (9-6, 1-1).
Jerian Grant scored 17 points and Jack Cooley finished with a double-double on 15 points and 11 rebounds to lead Notre Dame, which never led. The game was tied once, at 2-2 with 17:39 left in the first half. The Irish never recovered from Cincinnati’s early pressure, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
“I thought defense, for us, put us in position to win the game, but their press sped us up so much that it made us play frantically, and we never got into a comfortable tempo” Brey said.
Dixon became the 47th player in Cincinnati history to reach 1,000 career points.
“It feels great,” he said. “I never thought about it in my first couple of years, but as I got older, I started thinking about it a little bit.”
The Bearcats’ Big East home opener drew a season-high crowd of 10,142, including Basketball Hall of Fame member and Cincinnati career scoring leader Oscar Robertson, who occupied his courtside seat for the first time in nine games at Fifth-Third Arena. The previous high was 7,021 for a 73-69 win over Marshall on Nov. 25.
The 6-foot-9 Gates, a pre-season, second-team All-Big East pick, entered the game for the first time with 14:31 left in the first half and slid right in to the Cincinnati offense, which coach Mick Cronin changed to a four-guard, open-post attack after Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavus Ellis all were suspended for six games following an ugly, bench-clearing brawl with Xavier on Dec. 10. Gates scored all six of his points in 12 minutes before halftime, helping the Bearcats take a 31-21 lead into the locker room.
“I wasn’t concerned at all,” Cronin said. “He’s been doing it in practice every day. We need him. If you think you’re going to play that much four-guard in 18 Big East games, you’re not being realistic. Guys wear down.”
Brey was impressed with Gates’ return.
“Mick did a great job bringing him back and smoothly immersing him with them,” Brey said. “That can be difficult.”
The result is the most confident Bearcats team he’s seen.
“This group has great vibes about them — a great belief about themselves,” he said. “They’re men amongst boys right now. They were toying with us.”
The first-half scoring was the second-lowest of the season for Notre Dame, which shot just 32.1 percent (9 for 28) overall and 1 for 10 on 3-pointers before halftime. The Irish scored 20 in a 69-58 loss to then-No. 18 Indiana on Dec. 17.
Parker, scoreless in 14 minutes in the first half after setting a career-high with 21 points in Cincinnati’s 66-63 win at then No. 22 Pittsburgh on Sunday, made three 3-pointers in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the second half to help the Bearcats open up a game-high 17-point lead, 43-26. From that juncture, Notre Dame got no closer than eight points.
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