GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Just as he has all year, Leonard Stokes was there when Cincinnati needed him most.
Stokes scored six of his 16 points in the final 4:38 to help Cincinnati beat East Carolina 59-53 on Wednesday night.
Stokes averaged 27.5 points in two Bearcat victories last week, but he knew he would have limited opportunities against the Pirates.
''They're like us in that they're a defensive-minded team that doesn't let you get where you want to go on the floor,'' he said. ''We knew points would be hard to come by tonight.''
Nine different players scored for Cincinnati (12-3, 5-0), which kept pace with No. 9 Louisville atop Conference USA's American Division.
''Our kids played hard and Leonard made plays for us once again,'' Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. ''He made key free throws, and he stepped up every time tonight for us when we needed something big.''
The Bearcats led twice by as many as 10 points, the last coming at 39-29 with 13:14 remaining. But East Carolina (10-6, 1-4) went on a 16-8 run to get within two with 5:18 to play.
Cincinnati pushed the lead back to seven, then center Moussa Badiane answered with a short hook and a three-point play to get East Carolina to within 52-50 with 2:14 remaining.
Jason Maxiell and Stokes each countered with two free throws for Cincinnati before Belton Rivers sliced the six-point lead in half with a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left. That was the closest the Pirates would get as the Bearcats made three of four free throws to end the game.
''We made just enough plays on the offensive end,'' Huggins said. ''I thought both teams really got after it defensively. They forced us to do some things we didn't want to do and we forced them to do some things they didn't want to do.''
Gabriel Mikulas scored 15 points to lead the Pirates, which lost their fourth game in a row while shooting 31 percent from the field. Badiane and Rivers added 13 points each for East Carolina.
Tony Bobbitt and Armein Kirkland came off the bench to each finish with nine points for Cincinnati.
Both teams struggled offensively in the game's first 12 minutes.
The Pirates made just two of their first 14 field-goal attempts while Cincinnati went just 3-for-15 in the same stretch.
East Carolina took its only lead of the first half on a pair of Mikulas free throws with 6:23 to play. The Bearcats closed the half by hitting seven of their last nine shots to lead 29-25.
Derrick Wiley, the Pirates' leading scorer at 14 points per game, missed all eight of his field-goal attempts and finished with a season-low two points.
''Defenses are adjusting to Derrick, so now he has to adjust as well,'' East Carolina coach Bill Herrion said. ''When he's driving the ball, teams are converging on him and he's taking some tough shots.''
East Carolina's defense limited Cincinnati to 37-percent shooting from the field.
''Our defense was good enough to win tonight,'' Herrion added. ''The bottom line is that we've got to shoot the ball better if we're going to win in this league.''