NCAA

Duke looks to end bowl drought vs. Cincinnati

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Duke looks to end bowl drought vs. Cincinnati

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Chances are when you think of Duke, you think of men's basketball.

Senior receiver Conner Vernon sees Thursday night's Belk Bowl against Cincinnati as a perfect opportunity to help the Blue Devils' football team emerge from coach Mike Krzyzewski's shadow.

This is Duke's first bowl game in 18 seasons, and the Blue Devils will be playing in the only nationally televised bowl of the night.

``Anybody who follows college football will be watching, so this is our chance in the national spotlight to take a big step forward with this program and let people know about us,'' said Vernon, the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time career leader in receptions and yards receiving.

Duke (6-6) hasn't won a bowl game since 1961.

``Is there a lot of pressure on us? Absolutely,'' said quarterback Sean Renfree. ``But good players like added pressure, and they thrive on it.''

Coach David Cutcliffe called this game the next step in trying to build a winning tradition and raise the level of expectations of the players, similar to what his friend Krzyzewski has done on the hardwood.

``This is national exposure for us,'' Cutcliffe said. ``The NFL is not playing. We're it. We're the game. So people across the country who maybe heard a little bit about Duke football, if they see us play as well as we can play, I think they will be a little shocked. We have a lot of speed and a lot of skill. So this can have a huge impact for us.''

And Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils are on the verge of something special.

``I don't plan on not making a bowl again - and that's the mentality I want every player to have. ... When I talked to coach Krzyzewski, there is no question what the expectations of a Duke basketball player are,'' Cutcliffe said. ``And that's the opportunity we have - to create really big expectations.''

Duke faces a Cincinnati team in transition after the departure earlier this month of coach Butch Jones and both coordinators.

Jones left to take the job at Tennessee, so defensive line coach Steve Stripling will serve as interim head coach Thursday night. Incoming coach Tommy Tubberville will also be on hand to watch but won't have any input on game day.

Jones went 23-14 at Cincinnati the last three years.

The Bearcats (9-3) finished tied for the best record in the Big East Conference but are left with only five full-time coaches from Jones' staff to work the game. They'll have new coordinators calling the shots on both sides of the ball.

Stripling led Central Michigan to a 44-41 win over Troy in the 2010 GMAC Bowl before joining Jones' staff. Stripling, who'll call the plays on defense, said his biggest concern had been keeping his team focused through adversity.

He said the play calls won't change.

``What we've tried to do from the beginning, because this is such a different situation for them, is try to find some normalcy,'' Stripling said. ``You try to keep them in their comfort zone and keep them focused.''

Despite the changes, the Bearcats come in as 7-point favorites. That's largely because they have a high-powered offense that'll be facing a Blue Devils defense that collapsed down the stretch.

After a rare win over rival North Carolina to go 6-2, the Blue Devils lost their final four games to Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami. During that stretch, Duke's defense surrendered a whopping 51 points and 294.5 yards rushing per game.

That should play into Cincinnati's hands.

Led by senior tailback George Winn, the Bearcats enter the game ranked 31st in the country in rushing. After serving as a backup for most of his career at Cincinnati, Winn has emerged as a leader on offense, running for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Cutcliffe said Winn reminds him of Cadillac Williams, a guy who can put the team on his back and carry 25 to 30 times per game.

``I've had a chance to carry this offense and step up and take on a big role,'' Winn said. ``I think that has meant a lot to this team, and that's meant a lot to this team which wasn't given a chance, at least offensively, do anything special this year.''

Duke will need its offense to be in high gear.

Renfree completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,760 yards with 18 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. His favorite targets are Vernon and Jamison Crowder, who combined for 145 receptions and 15 touchdowns. Desmond Scott also caught 60 passes.

Cincinnati features a bend-but-don't-break defense.

``We kept teams off the scoreboard, which is big,'' Stripling said. ``I think that's going to be the key.''

Stripling laughed when asked if he foresees a high-scoring affair.

``Well, I'm a defensive guy, so I don't think that way,'' he said. ``Ultimately I think this game will be about which defense steps up to the challenge.''

VCU's upset bid falls short as No. 5 Dayton earns 15th straight win

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VCU's upset bid falls short as No. 5 Dayton earns 15th straight win

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Jalen Crutcher scored 18 points and No. 5 Dayton held off a late challenge and beat VCU 66-61 on Tuesday night, the Flyers' 15th consecutive victory.

Odi Toppin added 12 points and Trey Landers 11 for the Flyers (24-2, 13-0 Atlantic 10). They were the highest-ranked team ever to play on VCU's home floor.

VCU (17-9, 7-6) closed to within one possession several times in the last seven minutes, the last on Vince Williams' putback with 27 seconds left, but Dwayne Cohill made a pair of free throws with 22.4 seconds left and the Flyers held on.

Nah'Shon Hyland led VCU with 18 points and Marcus Santos-Silva had 12 points and 17 rebounds, but VCU lost for the fourth time in its last five games.

The Rams used an 8-1 run to get within 52-50 with 6:18 left, but Dayton converted six of eight free throws to rebuild the lead to 58-51. Malik Crowfield's 3-pointer and a free throw by De'Riante Jenkins pulled the Rams within 58-55, but Toppin scored inside and added a free throw.

BIG PICTURE

Dayton: The Flyers were shooting well about 50% for most of the game before a dry spell in the second half that included a pair of ill-advised 3-point tries by Crutcher and Landers. They finished 19 for 42, 45.2%.

VCU: The Rams played without point guard Marcus Evans, their top passer and No. 3 scorer. Evans aggravated a left knee injury in VCU's loss to Richmond last Saturday.

UP NEXT

The Flyers are at home against Duquesne on Saturday.

VCU is on the road at Saint Louis on Friday.

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No. 7 Maryland takes down Northwestern for 9th straight win

No. 7 Maryland takes down Northwestern for 9th straight win

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) -- Jalen Smith had 22 points and a career-high 19 rebounds for his ninth consecutive double-double, and No. 7 Maryland extended its winning streak to nine games by defeating Northwestern 76-67 Tuesday night.

Smith achieved his 17th double-double of the season by halftime. In two games against Northwestern this season, the 6-foot-10 sophomore has 47 points and 30 rebounds.

Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 19 for the Terrapins (22-4, 12-3 Big Ten), who never trailed in improving their record at home to 15-0. The victory, combined with Penn State's loss to Illinois, left first-place Maryland with a two-game lead with five games to go.

Ryan Young scored 17 and Boo Buie added 15 for the Wildcats (6-19, 1-14) in their 10th successive defeat.

Down by 12 at halftime, Northwestern trailed only 50-46 with 10:45 left. It was 63-57 before a dunk by Smith, two free throws by Cowan and layup by Aaron Wiggins put the Terps up 69-57 with 3:23 remaining.

When the teams met at Northwestern a month ago, the Terrapins rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to win 77-66. This time, Maryland took charge at the outset.

Smith had 10 points and six rebounds in the opening seven minutes to stake the Terps to a 17-6 lead. After the Wildcats closed to 25-22, Darryl Morsell, Wiggins and Eric Ayala hit successive 3s and Cowan added a free throw for a 13-point cushion.

A late dunk by Smith made it 37-25 at halftime.

MOVING ON UP

Cowan passed Tom McMillen to move into eighth place on Maryland's career scoring list. Cowan, a senior guard, has 1,809 points and is 49 short of catching Lonny Baxter for seventh. The school record is 2,269 by Juan Dixon.

BIG PICTURE

Northwestern: The Wildcats can take solace in making a game of it on the road against a Top 10 team. But what Northwestern could use instead of a moral victory is a real one, a feat the Wildcats haven't accomplished since Jan. 11 against Nebraska.

Maryland: One week after squeezing past lowly Nebraska at home, the Terrapins left nothing to chance against an overmatched opponent. It wasn't a blowout, but the outcome was never really in doubt. Maryland now stands two wins away from a perfect season at home.

UP NEXT

Northwestern hosts Minnesota on Sunday, the rematch of a game the Wildcats lost 77-68 on Jan. 5.

Maryland faces No. 25 Ohio State on Sunday to begin a stretch in which the Terrapins play three of four on the road.

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