CINCINNATI – Bearcats coach Mick Cronin saw it coming and tried to stop it.
Cronin saw the trash talking escalate in the final seconds of No. 8 Xavier's 76-53 win over Cincinnati on Saturday and tried to call a timeout so both teams could go toward their benches. He didn't get the timeout.
Moments later, the fists were flying.
The referees called the game with 9.4 left after players from both teams left the benches and traded shoves and swings in a corner of the court in front of Cincinnati's bench.
Both teams could have players suspended for the brawl, which raises more questions about whether the annual rivalry game has gotten too big.
"There's no excuse for any of them, on our side, on their side," Cronin said. "Guys need to grow up.
"There is zero excuse for that in basketball. You've got to learn how to win on one side, you've got to learn how to lose on the other side."
The last two games have been one-sided.
Cincinnati (5-3) won by 20 points on its home court last season, the most lopsided finish for one of the rivalry games in eight years. Xavier (8-0) answered with its second-biggest win in the series' history.
There's always a steady flow of trash talking in the series, and players have occasionally had to be pulled away from each other by referees and coaches. The brawl on Saturday took it to a new level.
Xavier guard Mark Lyons exchanged words with Cincinnati players as the teams passed each other on court and headed for the locker rooms at halftime, with the Musketeers ahead 34-25. Xavier took control of the game by opening the second half with a 9-2 run, and led by double digits the rest of the way.
Xavier senior point guard Tu Holloway got open for a layup with 18.6 seconds left, and the players headed down court. Holloway, a senior guard held to five points in the rivalry game last season, said some things to the Cincinnati bench and got shoved by a Bearcat player, igniting the free-for-all.
During the week, Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick told an interviewer that Holloway — the Atlantic 10's player of the year — wouldn't start for his team. Holloway wanted the last word as the clock ran out.
"I was just saying it's my city right here," Holloway said. "I'm cut from a different cloth. None of them guys on that team is like me, so I don't understand. I felt disrespected for them guys to come at me and talk like that, so I let the whole staff over there and let their players know that none of them is like me.
"That's when it started."
Xavier center Kenny Frease came away with a gash under his left eye. Coaches from both teams yanked their players away from the scrum. Neither was sure after the game of what had happened or which players could face suspensions.
Cronin had urged the referees to hand out technical fouls if the trash talking continued in the second half. None was called. Then, he tried to get the timeout at the end to prevent the eruption he saw coming.
The Atlantic 10 and Big East conferences will review the fight along with the schools and decide on punishment.
Cronin told his players to remove their jerseys after the game because he was so upset at what happened.
"We represent an institution of higher learning," Cronin said. "It's way more important than basketball games. I made everybody take their jersey off, and they will not put it on again until they have a full understanding of where they go to school and what the university stands for and how lucky they are to even be there, let alone have a scholarship.
"They're all sitting in there with no jersey on. Some of them I physically took it off."
Cincinnati didn't make players available for comment after the game. They left the Cintas Center under tight security.
"If my players don't act the right way, they will never play another game at Cincinnati," Cronin said. "I just told my guys: I need to meet with my (athletic director) and my president, and I will decide who's on my team going forward. That's what the University of Cincinnati is about. Period. I've never been this embarrassed."
Yancy Gates led Cincinnati with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Cincinnati went only 1 of 16 behind the arc and shot 30 percent from the field. The Bearcats didn't make their players available for interviews after the game, leaving the Cintas Center under tight security.
Xavier has won four of the last five, seven of the last 10, and nine of the last 13 games in the city's annual bragging-rights game. The Musketeers had a little extra motivation in this one — the 20-point loss last season, when the Bearcats geared their defense to stop Holloway.
This would be Holloway's last crosstown shootout, and he was determined to prevent Cincinnati from getting its first back-to-back wins in the series since 1995-96.
He was in the middle of it at the end.