Cincinnati beats last-place Providence 81-66

JOE KAY AP Sports Writer Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- No style points for this one. Cincinnati beat the last-place team in the Big East by getting ahead big, then holding its breath and holding on.

Yancy Gates had 16 points and nine rebounds, leading an offense that scored inside and built a big lead, and the Bearcats held on for an 81-66 victory on Wednesday night that was a first step in what they hope is an impressive closing spurt.

"We're helping each other stay focused on what we're trying to do: Finish strong down stretch to get into (NCAA) tournament and also get a good seed in the Big East tournament," Gates said.

Cincinnati (18-8, 8-5 Big East) led by 24 points in the second half after repeatedly driving through the Friars' half-court defense for layups. Then, it got interesting.

The Bearcats sweated out a Providence surge that cut it to 66-59 with 4:22 to go. Sean Kilpatrick scored 21 points for Cincinnati, including six free throws in the final minute.

Providence (13-14, 2-12) has lost four in a row and eight of its last nine, dropping the Friars into last place in the Big East.

Vincent Council led the Friars with 29 points, 21 of them in the second half. LaDontae Henton added 24.

Lately, Friars have played teams close, only to fade at the end with a lineup that has little depth -- 3-point leader Bryce Cotton averages just under 40 minutes per game, as does Council. Henton averages 38 minutes per game.

That's a lot of time on court, and it tends to show at the end. It did again on Wednesday -- the Friars' bench failed to score.

"We've been in so many close games," coach Ed Cooley said. "The same Achilles heel continues to bit us. Games are coming down to the last 4 minutes and second shots, and it's really, really hurting us."

In this one, the start was the Friars' biggest problem.

The Bearcats opened with the 13-6 run led by Gates and point guard Cashmere Wright, who had a driving basket, two steals and two assists in the spurt.

Cincinnati had been in a rough stretch lately, losing four of its previous six while falling to seventh in the league. The Bearcats were coming off a 95-78 loss at Marquette, the most points a Cincinnati team had allowed in nearly four years. They had little problem getting comfortably ahead of the Friars.

The Friars held down Cincinnati's 3-point shooting, but paid a price. The Bearcats found a lot of room to drive through the lane for layups, scoring 26 points in the paint while pulling ahead 41-25 by halftime. Cincinnati shot 53 percent from the field in the half.

Henton led the Friars with 14 points in the half, the only consistent threat for a team that's one of the league leaders in 3-point accuracy.

The Bearcats stretched the lead to 54-30 in the second half before Providence started hitting 3s. Council made a pair of 3s, two free throws and a fast-break layup during a 15-2 run that cut the lead to 56-45 with 11:01 left, giving Providence a spark.

"I just felt like we were in mud for 30 minutes," Cooley said. "Then we pressed, got energy, and the game changed dramatically."

Council had the most to do with it. He repeatedly hit tough shots with a defender right on him.

"He was making some unbelievable stuff," Kilpatrick said. "It's always like that playing against a dangerous team. We know they're capable of making shots. Against a team like that, when you've got the lead, you can't look at the scoreboard. You've got to keep playing."

Henton had a 3-pointer and a driving layup during a seven-point spurt that cut the deficit to 66-59 with 4:25 left. Wright hit a pair of free throws that ended the comeback.