By MIKE FITZPATRICK, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ A fast start and a strong finish gave Cincinnati an important win for its NCAA tournament resume.
Sean Kilpatrick scored 17 points to lead the Bearcats past Providence 61-44 on Wednesday in a Big East tournament game between teams desperate to improve their postseason credentials.
“Great effort by our guys on the defensive end of the floor,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We outrebound people despite our lack of size, and so credit to the kids in the uniforms. They’ve got great toughness, and they’re really committed to winning.”
JaQuon Parker added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Bearcats (22-10), who might have solidified an NCAA tournament berth with the victory. No. 9 seed Cincinnati advanced to a quarterfinal matchup Thursday with fifth-ranked Georgetown, the tournament’s top seed.
The Hoyas won at Cincinnati 62-55 on Feb. 15.
“We know they’re a great team, but like we talked about earlier, we’re a great team as well,” Kilpatrick said. “Especially the way we’re playing defense the way we are. We’re a team that’s hungry. We’re a team that’s not going to back down from anyone, and we’re going to come out and give our best fight every night.”
Kadeem Batts led the eighth-seeded Friars (17-14) with 14 points and eight rebounds, but Bryce Cotton _ the conference’s leading scorer at 19.6 points per game _ was held to 12 on 5-for-15 shooting. He missed all seven 3-point attempts, and Providence went 1 for 16 from beyond the arc.
“Yeah, gross,” coach Ed Cooley said.
Wearing special uniforms with neon trim and hideous camouflage-patterned shorts, Cincinnati hounded the Friars into 28 percent shooting from the field (18 for 64).
Both teams struggled to score for most of the second half, though.
Trying to erase an early 18-point deficit, Providence cut it to 43-37 with 5:09 remaining on a tough layup by Cotton. Kilpatrick answered with a 3-pointer, and then Parker grabbed Kilpatrick’s off-target 3 and converted a three-point play for his first points of the second half.
Two more free throws by Parker extended Cincinnati’s cushion to 51-39 with 3:54 to go, and the Friars never got closer than eight again. Kilpatrick, from nearby Yonkers, sealed it with a three-point play that made it a 14-point game at the 1:41 mark.
“I think our pressure affected them, no doubt,” Cronin said. “Their lack of depth probably, and our pressure defense.”
In their final chance for an NCAA tournament push, both teams entered this second-round matchup eager to make a splash.
Cincinnati appeared to be in better position, with a 20-win season already secured and an RPI ranking of 49. But the Bearcats faded late in the regular season, dropping six of their final nine games, while Providence became one of the best teams in the Big East once the calendar turned to February.
The surprising Friars, ranked 83rd in the RPI, won seven of their last nine conference games, including a 54-50 victory at home over then-No. 17 Cincinnati on Feb. 6 behind 25 points and nine rebounds from Batts. The teams tied for ninth place in the Big East at 9-9, but Providence came to New York knowing it probably needed a deep run at Madison Square Garden to have a shot at an at-large bid and its first NCAA tournament trip since 2004.
“I think our program has come a long way in the last year,” Cooley said. “But our program isn’t ready for that moment yet. … Providence hasn’t won in this building in I don’t know how many years. So, it’s my job. I need to do a better job educating our kids on how to play in the moment, and we’re just not there yet.”
Instead, the Friars will likely be left hoping for a chance to play in the NIT. Cooley said the team would not except an invitation to the CBI or CIT.
“Today is not indicative of the future for us. We just had a bad game, and they played well,” Cooley said. “I don’t know if we have more basketball games left in us but if we don’t, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved this year.”
Early on, it was the deeper Bearcats who took charge as Providence came out cold.
The Friars, picked last in the preseason coaches’ poll after going 4-14 in league play each of the past three years, missed 10 of their first 11 shots and opened 3 for 22 from the field _ including 0 of 5 from 3-point range. Meanwhile, the Bearcats started 6 for 8 en route to a 26-8 lead following Parker’s second consecutive 3 with 6:23 left in the first half.
“I thought their early pressure bothered us, put us on our heels,” Cooley said. “I thought my young guys were a little nervous to start.”
Providence called timeout and regrouped, holding Cincinnati to one field goal the rest of the half as the Friars closed on a 15-5 run to go into the locker room down 31-23.
This was the first meeting between these schools in the Big East tournament. Cincinnati went all the way to the championship game last year before losing to Louisville, then reached the round of 16 in the NCAAs. The Bearcats have won their first game in each of the last four Big East tournaments.
“We’re not as big and strong as the Cincinnati teams of the past,” Cronin said. “We’re more faster, quicker, more athletic.”
Providence has lost five straight Big East tournament games and 10 of its last 11. The Friars were routed by Seton Hall 79-47 last year.
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