After faltering to a 3-6 finish this regular season, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin reverted to the bare-knuckles defensive style that carried his team to the Big East Tournament final a year ago. Providence never really had a chance as the Bearcats jumped on the Friars early and held them to 28.1-percent shooting in a 61-44 second-round victory Wednesday afternoon at the Garden.
The Bearcats (22-10) pressed and built a 26-8 lead after consecutive three-pointers by JaQuon Parker. Coach Ed Cooley's Providence team came into the tournament on a 7-2 hot streak and fought back to cut the deficit to 31-27 early in the second half largely by throwing the ball inside to Kadeem Batts (14 points, eight rebounds).
Cincinnati surged to a 41-33 lead but hit a lull when it missed eight of nine shots and committed two turnovers. The Friars (17-14) failed to capitalize, shooting 1-for-7 and not even reaching the rim on five of those shots.
"We were trying to throw body blows and wear them down," Cronin said. "That's where I think our pressure affected them, no doubt. In the Big East, you're going to have lots of scoring droughts, and you've got to make sure you hold yourself in there when you struggle to score. Those are the teams that are going to play on Friday and Saturday, teams that can fight through that."
Parker had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Bearcats, who meet top seed Georgetown (24-5) Thursday at noon. Sean Kilpatrick added 17 points and Cheikh Mbodj was a physical presence with eight points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots. Providence's Bryce Cotton, who led the Big East in scoring, was held to 12 points and shot 0-for-7 from three-point range.
"Providence hasn't won in this building in I don't know how many years," Cooley said of the Friars' 1-10 record in its last 11 Big East tourney games. "When we did get back into the game, we just weren't ready for that moment."