CINCINNATI — Xavier center Kenny Frease used a white cloth to soak up the blood streaming from a gash below his eye. Coaches from both teams bear-hugged their players and tried to yank them away from the bedlam.
The latest crosstown shootout got out of control Saturday and ended in bedlam, a few seconds early. The repercussions haven't even started.
Eighth-ranked Xavier beat crosstown rival Cincinnati 76-53 on Saturday in a game that featured a steady stream of trash talking and was called with 9.4 seconds left when the teams got into a brawl in a corner of the court.
Words escalated into shoves and swings. Both benches cleared. Frease left the court with his face bloodied after getting punched by Cincinnati's Yancy Gates and then kicked by Cincinnati's Cheikh Mbodj while he was on the floor on his knees. Xavier freshman Dez Wells threw a punch during the fracas.
It left a black-and-blue mark on the annual rivalry. Suspensions are expected after the videotapes are reviewed. The Atlantic 10 and the Big East were examining the brawl, along with the schools.
"There's no excuse for any of them, on our side, on their side," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said angrily. "Guys need to grow up.
"There is zero excuse for that in basketball. You've got to learn how to win on one side, you've got to learn how to lose on the other side."
The officials reviewed videotape of the brawl on courtside monitors after the game, trying to see what happened. They declined comment as they left the Cintas Center. A few hours later, the Atlantic 10 said that Gates, Mbodj and Wells were listed as ejected, indicating their actions were deemed the most severe.
The last two games in the series have been one-sided, leading to some heightened emotion.
Cincinnati (5-3) won by 20 points on its home court last season, the most lopsided finish for one of the rivalry games in eight years. Xavier (8-0) answered with its second-biggest win in the series' history.
There's always a dose of trash talking in these games, and players have occasionally had to be pulled away from each other by referees and coaches. The brawl on Saturday took it to a new level.
Xavier guard Mark Lyons exchanged words with Cincinnati players as the teams passed each other on court and headed for the locker rooms at halftime, with the Musketeers ahead 34-25. Xavier took control of the game by opening the second half with a 9-2 run, and led by double digits the rest of the way.
Xavier's Tu Holloway got open for a layup with 18.6 seconds left, and the players headed down court. Holloway, a senior guard held to five points in the rivalry last season, said some things to the Cincinnati bench and got shoved, igniting the free-for-all.
During the week, Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick told an interviewer that Holloway – the Atlantic 10's player of the year – wouldn't start for his team. Holloway wanted the last word as the clock ran out.
"I was just saying it's my city right here," Holloway said. "I'm cut from a different cloth. None of them guys on that team is like me, so I don't understand. I felt disrespected for them guys to come at me and talk like that, so I let the whole staff over there and let their players know that none of them is like me.
"That's when it started."
Both coaches expressed disappointment at how the players behaved. Neither was sure after the game of what had happened or which players could face suspensions.
"It was such a melee," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "We were just trying to separate players and it becomes chaotic in there."
Cronin had urged the referees to hand out technical fouls if the trash talking continued in the second half. None were called – Mack got one in the first half for disagreeing with a goaltending call.
"It's disappointing," Mack said. "We're all competitors. We all played our hearts out. This game means so much. There's a lot of pressure on both teams to win it. For it to play itself out like it did at the end, I don't know another word other than disappointing.
"The crime of it was for 39-and-a-half minutes, it was probably one of the cleaner crosstown shootouts in terms of hard fouls and (pileups for) loose balls."
Cronin told his players to remove their jerseys after the game because he was so upset at what happened.
"We represent an institution of higher learning," Cronin said. "It's way more important than basketball games. I made everybody take their jersey off, and they will not put it on again until they have a full understanding of where they go to school and what the university stands for and how lucky they are to even be there, let alone have a scholarship.
"They're all sitting in there with no jersey on. Some of them I physically took it off."
On Saturday night, University of Cincinnati President Gregory H. Williams issued a statement saying he was "extremely disappointed" with the players' conduct.
"I appreciate Coach Cronin's strong postgame comments, and I want to support his position that this behavior is not what we expect of representatives of the University of Cincinnati," Williams said. "We will thoroughly investigate this incident and will act swiftly and firmly. We hold our student-athletes to a high standard, and this behavior will not be tolerated."
Xavier President Rev. Michael J. Graham also released a statement apologizing to the "entire Cincinnati community."
"This behavior was not representative of Xavier's standards and has no place in intercollegiate athletics," Graham said. "Our basketball program is expected to, and has for so many years now, represented the highest ideals of sportsmanship and ethical conduct."
Lyons had a game-high 19 points, and Holloway finished with 17. Frease had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Gates led Cincinnati with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Cincinnati went only 1 of 16 behind the arc and shot 30 percent from the field. The Bearcats didn't make their players available for interviews after the game, leaving the Cintas Center under tight security.
Xavier has won four of the last five, seven of the last 10, and nine of the last 13 games in the city's annual bragging-rights game. The Musketeers had a little extra motivation in this one – the 20-point loss last season, when the Bearcats geared their defense to stop Holloway.
This would be Holloway's last crosstown shootout, and he was determined to prevent Cincinnati from getting its first back-to-back wins in the series since 1995-96.
When the national anthem ended and both teams headed toward their benches, Holloway lingered on the court by himself for a few seconds, head down, eyes closed and soaking in the moment.
He was in the middle of it at the end. When the game was called, he jumped on the scorers' table and celebrated with the crowd.
Holloway noted it wasn't the first time he's seen an altercation in a crosstown game.
"That's what you're going to see from Xavier and Cincinnati," Holloway said. "We got disrespected a little bit before the game, guys calling us out. We're a tougher team. We're grown men over here. We've got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room – not thugs, but tough guys on the court. And we went out there and zipped them up at the end of the game."