The Cincinnati Bearcats (19-8 9-5) toughed out a much needed 62-57 victory over the Seton Hall Pirates (18-9 7-8) on Saturday afternoon at 5/3 Arena.
Parker Plays Big
When 6-foot-3 junior guard JaQuon Parker returned from a groin injury that cost him the first month of the season he was forced into playing the 4 position due to the post Xavire fight suspensions that sidelined Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj.
It was in head coach Mick Cronin's plans to play small with Parker at the 4 from the preseason, but once his hand was forced there was no turning back on the idea.
One of the main reasons it is possible was on display against Seton Hall as Parker battled with the tall trees in the paint to pull down 7 rebounds. 6 of those were on the defensive end where Seton Hall was living on the offensive glass to the tune of 18-second chance attempts on their 43 missed field goals.
Most of those boards for Parker were simply out battling his man and having the fortitude to go up and secure the ball down the stretch as the Pirates were trying to mount a comeback.
"You can't play four guards without him,” Cronin said after the win. “He is a guard on offense and plays twice his size on defense. That is where I have to do a better job in recruiting. I need more guys with his toughness.”
Parker is the type of player that proves scouting prospects is an inexact science. He isn't the tallest, longest or most athletic guy on the floor, but what he provides is an intangible that is hard to come by.
“The problem in coaching is we all complain,” said Cronin. “We marvel about Marquette's toughness and we complain about our guys. The answer is recruit guys like Jaquon Parker and you'll get toughness. It's the hardest thing to evaluate when you are watching kids play. Everyone is looking for the guy with great talent. I think the most underrated talent is toughness.”
For Parker it is just a matter of doing the job he is assigned. The 4 spot is needed to hit the glass, and no matter how many inches he is giving away to his opponent you can count on him giving his all to do his job.
"I don't know, you just see the ball come off the rim and you get position,” Parker said. “With us playing with four guards, somebody has got to rebound. We all have to rebound as a group. Coach Cronin said a lot about rebounding, so I think we all make a conscience effort about rebounding. You just try to out hustle them to the ball."
On a night were he topped his season average with 12 points, it was more about his toughness and ability to secure the ball when the Pirates missed.
Protecting The Line
Seton Hall came into the contest leading the Big East in 3-point attempts, and was 2nd in the league making over 36% of their attempts.
Obviously keeping them from getting it going on the perimeter was the key to the scouting report, and it was mission accomplished as the Pirates only connected on 4 of their 20 attempts including 0-9 from distance in the 2nd half.
“The 3 is their lifeblood,” Cronin said. “Their younger guys are all good shooters. They only made 4 and their primary shooters only made 2 so we did a pretty good job with that. We thought if we eliminated the 3 and transition that they couldn't score enough to win.”
UC only allowed 9 points in transition after struggling with their fast break defense recently, so both key areas of the scouting report were a success.
On the flip side, the Pirates were able to take advantage of the pressure on the perimeter by scoring 34 of their 57 points in the paint, but only 10 of those came from senior big man Herb Pope.
Overall it was a successful performance on the defensive end as the Pirates only shot 34.8% for the game and made only 11 trips to the free throw line on the day.
Technical Creates Stir
For the first time since the fight against Xavier on December 10th there was a bit of controversy surrounding big man Yancy Gates as he was hit with a technical foul after securing a rebound with 4:54 remaining in the 1st half.
He was tied up and fouled by Jordan Theodore and as he battled for the ball the Pirates guard was tossed to the floor. While nothing was called initially, the officials went to the monitor and charged Gates with the flagrant foul that had Cronin questioning the decision.
"I didn't like it,” Cronin said of both the decision to go to the monitor and the resulting infraction. “If that's a T, you can call 15 Ts in a BIG EAST game. I think when big guys are getting whacked at the way he did, that's a natural reaction. Obviously, I'll watch it on film, but I was standing right there. That is my opinion. I didn't think it was enough to go to the monitor. With what we have been through; we've talked about that all year. That is our first technical foul all year - player or coach. You have officials trying to make the NCAA tournament, so they aren't afraid to blow the whistle."