No. 11 seed Texas entered the contest as a team ranked much higher in offensive efficiency than defensive efficiency, but spent the first several minutes playing the opposite. The Longhorns scored on a jumper from Julien Lewis with 17:48 left in the first half, and didn't score again until the 7:30 mark.
At that point, the Longhorns trailed No. 6 seed Cincinnati 16-2, within 14 points only because of the way they defended. Texas trailed by the same margin at halftime — 31-17 — after actually upping its shooting percentage to 16 percent from the field for the stanza.
The Bearcats led by as many as 19 in the second half before Texas began a slow, excruciating comeback. At the 10:40 mark, the lead was still 14 points at 46-32 when Texas quickened its charge.
That was hastened by Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin switching to a zone defense, coming out of a man-pressure scheme that had been largely befuddling the Longhorn offense and giving shooters more room to breathe. Clint Chapman hit two free throws, then Julien Lewis hit a three. A free throw from Dion Dixon was followed by another Lewis three bomb.
Jaquon Parker hit a jumper, but J'Covan Brown hit one of his own, then fed Clint Chapman for a dunk. Myck Kabongo found Lewis for a layup and Sheldon McClellan hit a jumper as well.
Just like that, Texas trailed by just one point at 49-48 with 5:48 left. Texas actually tied the game at 52-all with 3:44 left on a Jonathan Holmes layup, and had a chance to take its first lead of the game on its next possession.
But Cincinnati simply executed better down the stretch. Sean Kilpatrick picked Brown's pocket, then the Bearcats were able to find Yancy Gates for a layup and a two-point lead. McClellan missed a three-pointer and Cashmere Wright made a layup. Brown attempted a tough three-pointer, missed it, and Gates canned a jumper. The lead was now six with 1:11 left, and while Texas would cut the advantage down to four a couple of times, the Longhorns weren't ever able to make it a one-possession contest again.
Gates led Cincinnati with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. He had three other teammates in double figures in Parker (13), Dixon (12) and Wright (11). Wright added six rebounds and five assists. Kilpatrick had eight points, four rebounds and six assists. The Bearcats outscored Texas in the paint by 20 points, 40-20.
J'Covan Brown had 19 points, five rebounds, six assists and five turnovers. Afterward, he was asked if Friday's contest was his last as a Longhorn.
"I'm not going to answer that question," Brown said. "I got a season to worry about next year. I'll make the decision, talk to the coach and talk to my parents and see what the best thing is for me. I'm not worrying about moving on right now. I'm just worrying about these six freshman that we have in the locker room and the two seniors that gave their all. I'm going to cherish this moment right now."
Julien Lewis had 14 points, while Clint Chapman had 10 points, 14 boards and four blocks. Sheldon McClellan added 10. In his tournament debut, Kabongo went 0-for-6, scoring two points and dishing out two assists to two turnovers. He did lead all game participants with four steals.
Texas (20-14) was disappointed by the result, which dropped Texas coach Rick Barnes to 20-20 in the NCAA Tournament.
"We're disappointed that this team worked hard all year, and we were just inept at the start of the game," Barnes said. "They came out very aggressive, and we turned the ball over and then we started pressing a little bit and missed a lot of shots at the rim when we were able to get the ball up there and shoot it. But we fought back, and as a coaching staff, we kept telling our guys we've been here before and we knew we would come back in the game and we did that.
"But I'm really proud of the fact that these guys fought," Barnes said. "Cincinnati played hard, did a good job. We put ourselves back in position to win the game and we didn't. But I'm proud of this group because where we started a year ago, they've come a long way. They earned the right to be here, and we know that we have to play better, we didn't, but again, congratulations to Cincinnati."
Cincinnati (25-10) will play No. 3 seed Florida State on Sunday.