CINCINNATI -- Deonta Vaughn scored 16 points and became Cincinnati's career leader in assists and made 3-point shots Wednesday night, leading the Bearcats to a 76-62 victory over Weber State.
The senior guard signed on to revive a program that fell on hard times after coach Bob Huggins was ousted. The Bearcats (19-15) hadn't won more than 18 games in any of the last three seasons under coach Mick Cronin, who was brought in for the reconstruction.
Follow the NIT championship from first-round games through the finals at Madison Square Garden on April 1. Bracket
"It's progress," Cronin said. "Getting in the NIT is progress. Playing in March is a habit. When you're building a program, that's important."Cincinnati, playing in the tournament for the first time since 2006, will host Dayton in the second round. A date hadn't been set.Vaughn has been through a lot of tough times, failing to reach the NCAA tournament in his four years. He was the team's top player during that span, sometimes the only scoring threat in a subpar offense.After he set the two school records in the second half, the 2,410 fans gave him a standing ovation during a timeout. At Cronin's urging, Vaughn stood and acknowledged the crowd."I just wanted to sit down and get the game over and finish our first NIT game off right," Vaughn said. "It felt good to be among one of the greatest at shooting 3s and dishing the ball out to teammates."Weber State (20-11) fell apart when Cincinnati went to a half-court trap midway through the first half. The Wildcats had seven turnovers during a decisive 17-0 run and finished with a season-high 23.The run put the Bearcats up 37-19. Cincinnati had three steals and forced an errant pass, setting up four straight baskets in a 1-minute, 18-second span."It was tough," said guard Damian Lillard, who had a game-high 26 points. "When we went over their press, they were right there. Sometimes they denied me the ball and forced everybody else to have to bring up the ball and make plays."Cincinnati hasn't been very adept at the trap, but thought it might be useful. The Bearcats executed it as well as they have all season, surprising the Wildcats."Part of that was my fault," coach Randy Rahe said. "We practiced it a little bit coming in. We haven't seen it a lot. We talked to people in the Big East and asked about it, and people said it wasn't a big factor [for Cincinnati]. We worked on it in practice a little, but obviously not enough."