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NEWARK, N.J. – If college basketball games were only 33 minutes long, then perhaps Seton Hall would have a better chance of competing against the nationally ranked teams — or maybe even beating one.
It took about seven minutes to waste a chance to beat No. 24 Cincinnati, falling behind during a 29-5 run that spanned the halves — the Bearcats scored 15 points in a row to start the second — in a 65-59 loss Saturday.
"The last three minutes of the first half doomed us and the first four minutes of the second half doomed us," said Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard, who saw his team lose for the third straight time and seventh in eight tries in the Big East Conference.
"We're not coming out with enough energy in the second half," said Willard, who watched as his team went from being ahead 23-19 with 3:58 left in the first half, to trailing 48-28 with 15:02 remaining.
"We have to finish the first half strong, then come out strong," Willard said. "I have to say we're not getting it right now. We have a major issue with that."
The Pirates also realize that they have a problem.
"We have to dig deep and find some way somehow to get a win and turn this around," said Brandon Mobley, who came off the bench to tie Fuquan Edwin for team-high scoring honors with 16 points. "We have a great chunk of our season left. We have to do something to keep this from happening."
"A lot of people are probably already counting us out, but we're right there," said Edwin, who scored 14 in the second half, when the Pirates mounted a ferocious comeback, cutting a 20-point lead down to four on two separate occasions. "Coach (Willard) is always harping on us that we can't come out flat. We have to pull through and find a way to get some wins. Our season is not over."
Sean Kilpatrick scored 21 points and Cashmere Wright added 17 as Cincinnati blew almost all of a 20-point lead before holding on for the Bearcats' fifth win in six games.
Cincinnati (18-4, 6-3 Big East) was up 48-28 5 minutes into the second half only to allow the Pirates (13-9, 2-7) to get within four points twice. The Bearcats, who entered the game 14th in the 15-team conference in free throw shooting at 64.9 percent, finished 21 of 27 (77.8 percent) from the line, including making eight of their last nine in the game.
"I thought we should have got to the line more but that's life on the road in this league," said Mick Cronin, who has a 200-116 record in 10 seasons as a head coach, 131-92 in seven seasons with the Bearcats.
Kilpatrick said the free throw shooting is getting better.
"Free throws are always big in close games and this conference is all about close games," said Kilpatrick who was 8 of 19 from the field and 5 of 15 from beyond the arc.
"Coach always tells me to keep shooting and I do and against a zone like they play there will be a lot of wide-open 3-pointers and we have a lot of guys who can make that shot."
Wright made all seven of his free throws and JaQuon Parker was 6 of 8 to lead the Bearcats.
The Bearcats scored the first 15 points of the second half — a run that had Willard call two timeouts in the opening 2:30. Kilpatricks's second 3 of the run — after he started 2 for 7 from beyond the arc — made it 48-28 with 15:02 left in the half.
Cincinnati had closed the first half on a 14-5 run and Wright had eight points, a 3-pointer, a traditional three-point play and two free throws.
Seton Hall took advantage of an offensive dry spell by the Bearcats to get as close as four points twice.
"In this league you're in always happy to get the 'W,'" Cronin said. "The great comeback from Seton Hall didn't surprise me, I expected it. We got the big lead too soon. I knew we would cool off eventually. I have veterans. Kevin doesn't."
Edwin made four straight free throws to cap a 17-2 run that made it 52-48 with 6:46 to play. Cincinnati had one field goal over a span of 13:28 — including missing 12 straight shots. The Pirates got to 56-52 with 3:12 to go on a 3-pointer by Mobley. But the Bearcats kept making their free throws to keep the Pirates at bay.