Stephenson's FT gives Cincinnati first victory in Big East tournament

NEW YORK -- Lance Stephenson picked up the hardware, then helped Cincinnati finally get a Big East tournament win.

The New York native was selected the conference's Rookie of the Year on Tuesday afternoon. About 6 hours later, he backed up the choice by making the game-deciding free throw with 1.8 seconds to play and the Bearcats beat Rutgers 69-68 in the opening round.

"This is the best conference in college basketball, and I just wanted to get everybody ready and everybody prepared in the gym so we could win this game," said Stephenson, who finished with 13 points -- 10 in a 4-minute span of the second half -- nine rebounds and five assists.

The 11th-seeded Bearcats (17-14) entered 0-3 all-time in the conference tournament. Now they will face sixth-seeded Louisville, the defending champion, in the second round.

"We got a one-point blowout tonight and we're proud of it," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "We did a great job offensively taking care of the basketball. If we get shots off, we're going to rebound. We needed to get this win so we have a chance to play Louisville again tomorrow night, a team we lost a tough game against at Freedom Hall earlier this season."

Mike Rosario had 26 points to lead the Scarlet Knights (15-17), who end the season losing five of six.

"This has been a team all year long with an unbelievable amount of heart," Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "We knew this would be a game that goes down to the wire."

The Bearcats seemed to have the game in hand when a 15-2 run gave them a 62-54 lead with 3:56 left. Cincinnati was ahead 65-59 with 44 seconds to go, but Rutgers, playing without any timeouts, managed to tie it at 68 on a a 3-pointer by Rosario with 15 seconds to play.

"I thought our guys were phenomenal the last 2 minutes of the game," Hill said. "You talk about execution, no timeouts left, they did everything they were supposed to do offensively and defensively. That's what got us into the game and gave us a chance to win.

"They put themselves in position to win the game and really deserved a shot to come away with a great win in the Garden. I wish we could have gotten it to overtime and given them 5 more minutes, they were playing really well."

Stephenson ended any thoughts of overtime when he drove to the hoop and was fouled with 1.8 seconds left. He made the first free throw, then intentionally missed the second, not leaving Rutgers with enough time to get off a good shot.

"I learned early in the season against Xavier not to settle for the jump shot, so I did what I did against UConn, went hard and got a foul," Stephenson said of his winning free throws against the Huskies with less than a second left on Dec. 30.

"I'm just wanting to play hard and win the game, that's all I'm trying to do, win the game. I knew I was going to make the first free throw, I had confidence in myself. I knew I was going to make the first one, so I could miss the second and make it a tougher shot. That was big-time, and that was why I came to Cincinnati, to change the program around and play hard and just win games."