CINCINNATI — Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin's discontent was clear: When he gets just 1 1/2 players' worth of effort from his team, the Bearcats should expect to lose.
After the Bearcats' 53-52 loss to St. John's Saturday, Cronin thought it was obvious why No. 14 Cincinnati suffered its second straight home loss after starting the season 13-0.
"Cashmere Wright came to play, and Titus (Rubles) gave us some heart and hustle in the second half," Cronin said. "We got outplayed for 35 minutes. You don't come to play, you're gonna lose. You don't come ready to play, I don't care who you are."
Wright finished the game with a team-high 23 points and Rubles added 14.
The Bearcats (13-2, 1-1 Big East) began the day second in the nation in rebounding (45.3), but didn't expect to be beaten at their own game. The Red Storm (9-5, 1-1) outmuscled Cincinnati on the boards 40-34 and relied on a physical presence in the paint to outlast the Bearcats.
Four of the previous five games in the series had been decided by exactly two points. After St. John's built a 12-point lead early in the second half, it looked like that trend would end until Cincinnati fought back late in the game.
Wright hit two 3-pointers in an 8-0 run that pulled Cincinnati within one with 2:32 left in the game. Wright's layup with 53 seconds to play gave the Bearcats a 52-51 lead.
But Red Storm leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison, coming off a career-high 36 points in a loss to Villanova this week, hit a jumper with 29 seconds left to regain the lead for St. John's.
Rubles squared up for Cincinnati with 6 seconds left but missed the jumper. St. John's pulled down the rebound, which forced Cincinnati to foul with 3 seconds left and heave a last-minute shot from beyond half-court at the buzzer.
"I thought it was going in," Rubles said.
The Red Storm missed nine of their first 10 shots but stayed close thanks to solid play on the boards.
Cincinnati led by seven points with 6:14 left in the first half, but St. John's found its scoring touch inside as the Bearcats' offense fizzled.
Cincinnati's first-half offense looked similar to its last home game, a 55-54 loss to New Mexico on Dec. 27, in which it missed 21 shots in the paint and shot just 31.3 percent from the field. Cincinnati managed to shoot 28.6 percent in the first half Saturday, well below the team's 43.6 percent mark for the season, and shot just 31.7 percent for the game.
"Point blank, they just beat us," Wright said. "Every loose ball, every rebound, they just got it and outplayed us. It seems like we just started going through the motions of the game and thinking we'd be able to win it no matter what instead of just playing."
St. John's coach Steve Lavin said rebounding was his team's sole focus entering Cincinnati, and it helped lead the Red Storm to its first statement win of the season.
"I said to the team, why don't we take this opportunity today to flip it and outrebound Cincinnati so we can win?" Lavin said. "And they came through. When you're aggressive, you tend to have a bounce come your way, you tend to make a shot like D'Angelo did. The aggressive team is the one who makes their breaks, and I thought we were able to finally get over the hump and finish a win because we were aggressive from start to finish."