CINCINNATI -- Seven players scoring in double figures. The senior leader volunteering to start on the bench. Another dominating showing on the boards.
Cincinnati (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) looked like a ranked team. The only thing missing was a big crowd.
Rashad Bishop scored 14 points in a balanced offense Tuesday night, and the Bearcats rolled to a 94-57 victory over Texas Southern in their first game as a ranked team in nearly four years.
"It means a lot to the program," said senior Deonta Vaughn, who volunteered to begin the game on the bench so a younger player could have his name announced as a starter. "Being my senior year, we've never been ranked. Me and coach [Mick] Cronin talked about how we were going to get there one day, and we got there as a team. We've figured out how to win."
Fresh off their impressive showing in the Maui Invitational, the Bearcats (5-1) took another step in resurrecting their program. Cincinnati was ranked for the first time since the middle of the 2005-06 season, when it was digging out from coach Bob Huggins' ouster a few weeks before the opening game.
Andy Kennedy coached Cincinnati on an interim basis that season, guiding it to a No. 22 ranking in the second week of January. Senior forward Armein Kirkland tore up his left knee, costing Cincinnati one of its best players and starting a slide that kept the Bearcats out of the NCAA tournament.
The Bearcats have been trying to get back ever since.
Now that they're back in the poll, Cronin challenged his players to give an inspired performance to try to win the fans back, too. The Bearcats have been playing in a half-empty arena.
"I also talked about trying to win fans over and send the message that we're for real, we need your support and get the arena filled up again," Cronin said.
Only 6,825 fans showed up Tuesday, disappointing Cronin.
"I understand the rebuilding process, but we're ranked in the Top 25," Cronin said. "I understood the frustration with the dismissal of a legendary coach. I understand the frustration with a lot of things, but that was four years ago. As we sit here today, we're ranked in the Top 25."
It was a notable night for the university in another way -- the first time its basketball and football programs have been ranked simultaneously. The fifth-ranked football team plays at Pittsburgh on Saturday for the Big East championship.
Freshman Lance Stephenson had a career-high 11 rebounds, seven points and seven assists, flirting with Cincinnati's first triple-double since Eric Hicks had one during that 2005-06 season.
Texas Southern (3-5) was led by 19 points apiece from Travele Jones and Junior Treasure.
Cincinnati got off to a wobbly start against Texas Southern's switching defenses, then took control with a 20-1 run paced by its defense. Bishop made all of his five shots in the first half for 11 points, including three baskets during the run.
"I thought our defense was good at the start," Bishop said. "Offensively we were not together at first, but we got turnovers and got some easy baskets. I'm really happy with the way it came out."
Texas Southern went to a half-court trap and gave up easy dunks, helping Cincinnati pull away.
The Bearcats jumped into the rankings with dominating performances in Maui, knocking off ranked teams Vanderbilt and Maryland before losing to Gonzaga in overtime in the championship game. Their rebounding and man-to-man defense came together during the tournament and were still prominent on Tuesday.
Cincinnati had a 47-25 advantage on the boards and limited the Tigers to 33 percent shooting from the field.
Texas Southern couldn't get an open shot inside against the much taller Bearcats and had to fire away from the perimeter. The Tigers went only 7 of 33 (21 percent) from the field in the first half, with five of the baskets coming from behind the arc.
Vaughn didn't start for only the fourth time in his career, volunteering to give up his spot so Dion Dixon could have his name announced during pregame introductions as a reward for his steady play this season. Vaughn got in at the 17:10 mark and finished with 12 points.
"Coach asked if there was anybody willing to give up one of the starting spots," Vaughn said. "I decided to give up my spot."