NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Without All-American center Kenyon Martin, Cincinnati struggled on offense but used its suffocating defense to dismiss overmatched North Carolina-Wilmington.
Pete Mickeal scored 15 points and held NC-Wilmington star freshman Brett Blizzard to five as second-seeded Cincinnati cruised to a 64-47 victory over the 15th-seeded Seahawks in a first-round South Region game.
NC-Wilmington shot just 29 percent (27-of-59) from the field and the Bearcats recorded nine blocks.
"We're going to defend and do the things we've done for a long time here even without Kenyon," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "But we got to make more shots. We shot much better in practice than we did today and it's got to get better." The Bearcats shot 42 percent for the game, but were 10-of-29 in the first half. However, NC-Wilmington shot an abysmal 21 percent (6-of-28) in the first half.
Cincinnati (29-3) will play seventh-seeded Tulsa (30-4) in the second round on Sunday. Tulsa rolled to an 89-62 rout of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Huggins reacted bitterly when the NCAA Tournament selection committee relegated Cincinnati to a No. 2 seed after Martin suffered a broken leg in a loss to Saint Louis last week. It marked the first time a team ranked No. 1 in the RPI was not given a top seed.
Today, Cincinnati did not look like a team deserving of a No. 1 seed for most of the first half. It held a 16-13 lead before closing the half with a 10-1 run and opened the second half with a 16-7 spurt to open a 42-21 bulge.
Cincinnati built its biggest lead at 51-29 on a 3-pointer by DerMarr Johnson with 8:44 left in the game.
Blizzard, a 6-3 freshman, was covered most of the day by the 6-6 Mickeal and was unable to shake off screens and find open spaces. He led the Seahawks in scoring at 15.9 points per game during the season but was just 2-of-8 from the field this afternoon.
"That's a no-brainer for us to have Pete cover the best perimeter scorer," Huggins said. "He's our most experienced guy. We work very hard in defending screens and it paid off today because they're a well-coached team that works off screens." Johnson scored 13 points and backcourt partner Kenny Satterfield added 12 for Cincinnati.
NC-Wilmington (18-13) was making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and clearly had never faced a team with Cincinnati's defensive ability.
The Seahawks had averaged just 60.5 points, ranking last in the Colonial Athletic Association. Today, they had just 28 points with less than 10 minutes in the game.
Victor Ebong led NC-Wilmington with 15 points. No other Seahawk player reached double figures.
"They're a tremendous defensive team," NC-Wilmington coach Jerry Wainwright said. "They have tall guards and Pete Mickeal is quick and physical." Martin, the Naismith Award winner honoring the nation's player of the year, was on the Cincinnati bench to support his team. Afterwards, he was encouraged by the Bearcats' performance.
"They can go as far as they want if they play hard," Martin said. "After some good practices they got their heads on straight and they're ready to play." At the outset, Cincinnati did not appear to be ready to play as NC-Wilmington took a 7-3 lead in the first 3:09. But the Bearcats scored the next nine points and were never headed the rest of the way.
Mickeal hit a 3-pointer and a free throw in the 9-0 run and NC-Wilmington went without a point for 6:50. Marcus Green hit a 16-foot jumper with 10:13 left in the half to end the drought for the Seahawks.
NC-Wilmington pulled within 16-13 on a basket by Oleg Kojenets with 5:51 left, but Cincinnati closed the half with a 10-1 run. Jermaine Tate hit a pair of short jumpers and Ryan Fletcher ended the half with a dunk, giving Cincinnati a 26-14 lead.
The 6-9 Fletcher started for the injured Martin and finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
"Our confidence just kept growing and growing as we built our lead," Fletcher said.
A tip-in by Tate and a 13-foot jumper by Fletcher to start the second half increased the lead to 30-14. After a short jumper by Ebong, Fletcher scored inside and Johnson converted a fast-break dunk to open a 34-16 advantage with 16:50 remaining.
Blizzard made his only 3-pointer of the game with 16:07 left.
A 25-foot jumper by Johnson gave Cincinnati its biggest lead at 51-29.
NC-Wilmington pulled no closer than 13 points the rest of the way.