TUCSON, Ariz. -- A stifling defense lifted No. 16 Arizona past Ball State 73-63 on Sunday. The emotional return of the Wildcats' Kevin Parrom overshadowed it all.
Parrom, playing seven weeks after he was shot in the right leg and left hand while visiting his family in New York City and less than a month after the death of his mother, played 18 minutes. The ever-hustling junior, whose participation was a game-time decision, sank a crucial 3-pointer, took a charge, grabbed four rebounds and had a steal.
He received a standing ovation from the loud, capacity McKale Center crowd when he entered the game and when he left in the fourth quarter.
"It felt good. It's an amazing feeling," he said. "I didn't know how good I was going to play. I just wanted to contribute and grab a rebound or two and just play hard."
As he came to the bench, Parrom got a big hug from coach Sean Miller.
"We wouldn't have won the game without him," Miller said. "He's just such a warrior, such a great kid, a kid who's been through more than any person ever deserves to be through. And to watch him respond, to get welcomed like he did when he came into the game, to watch him just play. He took a charge, got rebounds. We're so much a better team with Kevin, but that's not even the story."
Next up is a game in Parrom's hometown, when Arizona plays St. John's Thursday night in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden, a game he said he had been pointing to for his return, "especially since my mother passed."
Jarrod Jones matched his career high with 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Cardinals, who in their season opener dominated the game until the Wildcats clamped on the tight defense in the second half.
"Whether we won or lost the game, I was at complete peace as a coach with our effort level in the second half," Miller said. "That's how we play at Arizona. What we have to learn as a team is to play with that energy level and effort level from start to finish."
Parrom's 3-pointer capped a 15-5 run that cut Ball State's lead to 47-46 with 12 minutes left.
"It almost felt that basket counted for eight points," Miller said.
The Wildcats outscored the Cardinals 22-8 over the final 6:40.
"There definitely are some positives for our guys," Cardinals coach Billy Taylor said. "What's disappointing is they know the game plan certainly worked. If we could have stuck to it for 40 minutes we give ourselves a better chance of winning."
Arizona dominated the game at the foul line, taking 30 more free throws than the visitors. The Wildcats were 31 of 43 to Ball State's 6 of 13.
The Wildcats used defense to get back in the game, drawing an offensive foul and forcing a five-second call on consecutive Ball State possessions after the Cardinals took a 42-31 lead on Jones' rebound basket not quite two minutes into the second half.
The experienced Cardinals, with four starters back from a 19-13 season, boosted the lead to four on Jones' inside hook shot, but Perry sank a 3-pointer, then Johnson made both on a one-and-one to put Arizona up 56-55 with 6:07 to play, the Wildcats' first lead since the opening two minutes.
Hill's two free throws, followed by his first 3-pointer of the season boosted the lead to 61-55 with 2:37 remaining.
"With the crowd like theirs, the game was never over," Jones said. "They definitely got into it. Once the team got going, it gave them a lot of momentum. Going against a team like that, we have to be able to play with adversity, and keep our composure, not let the fans or calls or anything affect us."
Ball State opened a 17-10 lead on Scaife's steal and breakaway layup. After Arizona cut it to 19-15, the Cardinals scored the next seven to go up 26-15 when Berry made one of two free throws with 4:49 to play. The turnover-plagued Wildcats went scoreless for just over five minutes during the Ball State run.
Johnson made one of two free throws to cut it to 26-21, but the Cardinals, expected to contend in the Mid-American Conference, got consecutive 3s from Jones and Scaife in an 8-3 spurt that boosted the lead to 36-26 with 1½ minutes left in the half. Jones' driving dunk just before the halftime buzzer gave Ball State a 38-29 lead at the break.
The teams met for the first time.
Ball State plays at Indiana State Friday night.
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Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr., who averaged 15.8 points in 13 games before being injured last season, has withdrawn from the NBA draft.
Isaiah Briscoe has decided to withdraw from the NBA draft and will return to Kentucky for his sophomore season. Marcus Lee intends to transfer.
The Big 12/SEC Challenge will again feature Kansas and Kentucky, this time at Rupp Arena. That's not the only exciting matchup in next season's midseason conference showdown.