Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told anyone who would listen the Bearcats would go undefeated while senior forward and unquestioned team leader Yancy Gates served his six-game suspension for his role in an ugly brawl with crosstown rival Xavier three weeks ago.
The statement was designed to inspire confidence in his decidedly undersized team. Cronin didn’t actually expect it to happen. Until, of course, it did.
JaQuon Parker scored a career-high 21 points and Sean Kilpatrick added 19 as streaking Cincinnati beat No. 22 Pittsburgh, 66-63, last night, the Bearcats’ sixth win in as many games since switching to a four-guard offense while Gates, center Cheikh Mbodj, and forward Octavius Ellis sat while serving their suspensions.
“All this was [done] with relentless effort by the guys,’’ Cronin said. “You watch those guys play you think, ‘How are they doing it, they’re so small?’ ’’
The answer? A heavy dose of full-court pressure and a dash of fearlessness.
Cincinnati (11-3, 1-0 Big East) won at Pittsburgh for the first time in 33 years by forcing 17 turnovers and hitting big shot after big shot in the second half. The Bearcats made 11 of 27 3-pointers.
Pitt (11-4, 0-2) has lost three straight for just the third time in coach Jamie Dixon’s tenure. Nasir Robinson had 19 points for the Panthers.
Cincinnati didn’t panic after getting down by 8 points early. Instead the Bearcats kept shooting, kept getting their hands in passing lanes, and kept frustrating the Panthers.
A 3-pointer by Dion Dixon gave Cincinnati a 66-59 lead with three minutes to go and the Bearcats dug in defensively.
Pitt drew within 3 on two free throws by John Johnson with 40 seconds to play, but couldn’t take advantage after the Bearcats clanked the front end of two 1-and-1s.
Marquette 81, Villanova 77 - Darius Johnson-Odom matched a season high with 24 points and led the No. 14 Golden Eagles past the Wildcats in Milwaukee.
Reserve forward Davante Gardner had 13 points and a career-high 10 rebounds for Marquette (12-2, 1-0 Big East).
Mouphtaou Yarou had 14 points for the Wildcats (7-7, 0-2), who are off to their worst start in coach Jay Wright’s 11 seasons and have lost seven of 10.
Syracuse 87, DePaul 68 - Kris Joseph scored 22 points and the No. 1 Orange routed the host Blue Demons and extended their winning streak to 15 to begin the season.
C.J. Fair added 16 points, Dion Waiters had 13, and Fab Melo 12 to go with six blocks for Syracuse (2-0 Big East). The Orange opened 18-0 last season.
Cleveland Melvin had 23 points for DePaul (9-4, 0-1).
North Carolina 102, Monmouth 65 - John Henson scored 21 points and the No. 5 Tar Heels (13-2) blasted the Hawks (2-12) for their 26th straight victory at the Smith Center.
Duke 85, Penn 55 - Ryan Kelly had 18 points and 12 rebounds and the No. 7 Blue Devils (12-1) started the game with a 20-4 run and breezed past the visiting Quakers (6-8).
Michigan 61, Minnesota 56 - Freshman Trey Burke scored a season-high 27 points and the 18th-ranked Wolverines (12-2, 2-0 Big Ten) hung on to beat the visiting Gophers (12-3, 0-2) for their seventh straight victory.
Fairfield 72, Canisius 54 - Rakim Sanders scored 21 points and the host Stags (8-6, 3-2 MAAC) made 10 3-pointers en route to the easy win of the Golden Griffins (3-10, 0-3). Sanders, a transfer from Boston College, finished 5 of 8 from beyond the arc.
Kentucky 59, Florida 56 - A’dia Mathies scored 14 points and Bria Goss added 11 as the No. 6 Wildcats (12-2, 1-0 Southeastern) beat the cold-shooting Gators in Gainesville, Fla.
Deana Allen had 14 points for Florida (10-4, 0-1), which shot 32.8 percent.
Tennessee 73, Auburn 52 - Meighan Simmons had 20 points and the host No. 7 Lady Vols (9-0, 1-0 SEC) pulled away to beat the Tigers (8-6, 0-1) for the 27th time in the last 30 meetings.
Yale 9, Bentley 3 - Tied at 3 midway through the second period, Brian O’Neill scored four consecutive goals spanning the final two periods and the 19th-ranked Bulldogs (7-5-1) blew past the Falcons (5-9-3) in New Haven.
Justin Breton had a goal and an assist for Bentley.
Brown 5, Providence 2 - Ryan Jacobson scored twice and Matt Lorito added a goal and two assists as the visiting Bears (6-6-1) erased a 2-0 deficit and rallied to beat the Friars in the Mayor’s Cup. Ross Mauermann and Matt Bergland scored for Providence (8-8-1).