Presbyterian erases 15-point deficit, stuns No. 20 Cincinnati

CINCINNATI -- Gregg Nibert has a lot of emotional memories from his 23 seasons coaching at Presbyterian College -- that first NAIA national tournament appearance in 1993, trips to the Division II tournament, those upsets of Auburn and Wake Forest last season.

How does the latest compare? It brought him to tears.

Khalid Mutakabbir led Presbyterian's comeback from a 15-point deficit, hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer with 7.6 seconds left Saturday, and the Blue Hose pulled off a stunning 56-54 upset of No. 20 Cincinnati.

Nibert got choked up after Presbyterian's biggest win in five tough years at the Division-I level.

"No question about it," he said. "To beat a storied program ... I'm from Grove City, Ohio. I know all about Cincinnati and Oscar Robertson and all of them. We knew we had to play our absolute best game of the year."

Mutakabbir, a junior shooting guard, played the best game of his career.

The Blue Hose (3-2) trailed by 15 midway through the second half. Mutakabbir hit one big shot after another, including his 3 from the left wing that gave Presbyterian its first lead of the second half. He matched his career high with 25 points.

Cincinnati (2-1) missed an attempt to tie at the end, with Cashmere Wright's shot going off the rim. Presbyterian got the rebound, the buzzer sounded, and the celebration started at midcourt while 4,960 fans booed the home team.

"It was kind of like an out-of-body experience," Mutakabbir said. "I couldn't believe it. I was like floating around with my teammates there."

The Bearcats were ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2003. An astonishing collapse against a team that wasn't even in Division I that year provided a reality check.

"You just take it as a learning experience," center Yancy Gates said. "Probably some guys think we're better than we are. Hopefully it will humble us as a team."

After building that 15-point lead, the Bearcats went back into a shooting slump and repeatedly broke down on defense. The Blue Hose caught them with a closing 24-7 run.

"The stuff that goes on at the last 10 minutes defensively is beyond my comprehension -- beyond my comprehension," said coach Mick Cronin, who was considering lineup changes. "We're not tough enough. Really, simply, it was laziness on different guys' parts."

The Bearcats opened the game in a 1-for-16 shooting slump and made only 35.5 percent for the game against a defense that made it tough to get an open shot when it mattered.

Cincinnati pulled out of its cold shooting stretch behind Sean Kilpatrick, who made four 3s during a 13-4 run that made it 47-34 with 10 minutes to go. In the closing seconds, Kilpatrick missed a baseline shot that gave Presbyterian its final shot to take the lead. He finished with 19 points.

Presbyterian, which moved up to Division I in 2007, is in the middle of a stretch of three games in five days. The Blue Hose already have played a role in history -- their 96-55 loss at Duke on Nov. 12 gave coach Mike Krzyzewski his 902nd win, tying Bob Knight for the Division I men's mark.

Krzyzewski moved ahead of Knight with a win over Michigan State on Tuesday.

This time, Presbyterian was on the court at the end, celebrating a little of its own history.

"Even though we've gotten crushed when we've played ranked teams in the past, we always thought we could beat them," Mutakabbir said.

For Cincinnati, it was the third of six straight home games to open the season. The Bearcats' opening stretch includes Alabama State, Jacksonville State, Presbyterian, Northwestern State, Marshall and Miami of Ohio.

This one will sting for a long time.

Cronin wasn't happy with the way his Bearcats got ahead of Jacksonville State by 27 points on Tuesday night, then relaxed. Jacksonville State went on a 15-1 run and cut the lead to 10 before Cincinnati closed out a 73-59 win. Cronin kept his starters on the floor for the rest of the second half for some "conditioning" after they eased up.

Four days later, there was another letdown.