PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Ed Cooley thinks his Providence Friars are starting to get it, starting to show the kind of consistent effort you need to be a good basketball team playing in a tough conference.
Following a tough overtime loss to Connecticut, the Friars have turned in two outstanding defensive performances to climb back over .500. After holding Villanova to 27.5 percent shooting to pick up a road win Sunday, Providence held No. 17 Cincinnati to a season-low 50 points and held off a late charge to upset the Bearcats 54-50 in a Big East game Wednesday night.
"I think defense is a mindset, I think it's an attitude, I think it's an approach," Cooley said after Kadeem Batts scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help lift the Friars back over .500 at 12-11 (4-7 in the conference). "Our guys have shown that attitude and approach, starting on the road at Villanova, a brutal place to play, and then coming to play against I think one of the top two or three teams in our league."
At the other end of the hall, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was lamenting his team's lack of running its offense, its playing too much 1-on-1, as the key to the loss that dropped the Bearcats to 18-5, 6-4, as Cincinnati suffered only its second road loss this season (8-2 counting neutral sites). But the Friars' defense, strong from start to finish, may have had a lot to do with it.
Cincinnati shot 37.5 percent from the floor and was 3-for-13 from 3-point range.
"I don't remember another game we've played like that (defensively)," said Cooley. "We really paid attention to detail in our scouting. I'd give it an A-minus because we strive for perfection and settle for excellence -- and today was an excellent defensive attitude.
"It's a great win for us. It's been an up-and-down season, but I think in the last three games we're starting to show a little consistency in trying to play better basketball."
It didn't help that the visitors, who have been ranked as high as No. 8 this season, went 11-for-20 from the foul line, and didn't share the ball, with just eight total assists.
"You've got to trust your teammates. You've got to play team basketball," Cronin said. "When you don't, it looks ugly, and that's exactly the way it looked tonight."
The Friars blew almost all of a late 13-point lead as Cincinnati shaved the deficit all the way down to one but could never get over the top.
The game featured a matchup of Providence's Bryce Cotton, the Big East scoring leader, and Sean Kilpatrick, third in the league in scoring. But Cotton, who went 2-for-10, 2-for-9 from 3-point range, failed to score for the first 24:12, then scored nine points in 53 seconds and hit two big free throws late to finish with 11.
He was also part of a key defensive play in the closing seconds when, guarding Kilpatrick, he had Lee Goldsbrough come in and force Kilpatrick to bounce the ball off his foot and into a backcourt violation with two seconds left.
"I'm going to kiss him on the lips when I go into the locker room," Cooley said of Goldsbrough, who had six points, four rebounds and two assists off the bench.
Kilpatrick, who thought he was fouled on the deciding play, had 13 points, but was just 5-for-14 from the floor, 1-for-8 from 3-point range.
Batts missed two free throws with 13.4 seconds left to give the Bearcats a chance to tie, but then made two after the Kilpatrick turnover.
"Kadeem made the two free throws to win; I think he was 1-for-92 before that," said Cooley, whose postgame media sessions can be quite entertaining. "But he made ... you know what, character, character and mental toughness, he [made] the two that we needed to make."
Batts finished 5-for-12 from the line.
JaQuon Parker had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Bearcats.
The Friars led by one when Cotton's explosion propelled them to what would become a 17-5 run that produced the 13-point lead. The Cincinnati offense could do nothing against the aggressive Providence defense, but all that changed and a 10-0 run brought the Bearcats to within three.
Providence won despite going 2-for-17 from 3-point range and 10-for-17 from the foul line.
NOTES: Besides leading the Big East in scoring, Cotton was also leading the conference and was ninth in the country in 3-pointers made per game. ... The Bearcats open a three-game homestand against Pittsburgh Saturday, while the Friars have a week between games before visiting South Florida next Wednesday. ... PC's Vincent Council had eight assists and needs just 11 to pass Ernie DiGregorio and become Providence's all-time leader. ... Cincinnati entered the game sixth in the nation in blocked shots, 11th in field goal percentage defense, 12rth in rebounding margin and 21st in scoring margin. ... Providence was 0-2 against ranked teams before Wednesday night. ... The Bearcats were No. 8 in the country Dec. 24 and were actually out of the top 25 Jan. 24. ... A win would have given Cincinnati its best 23-game start since 2001-02.