Senior Day Dud

All of the elements were in place for a rowdy, enjoyable Senior Day experience at the Dunk. A fight for second place in the Big East, honoring three seniors and a sold out crowd of 12,400 just waiting to celebrate. Except no one bothered to tell the Butler Bulldogs.

It was clear from the start that Providence was not on its game. After LaDontae Henton hit a game opening three, two baskets by Rhode Island’s Andrew Chrabascz gave Butler a 9-3 lead and the Friars would be fighting from behind for the remainder of the game. A layup by Tyler Harris was followed by a steal and dunk by Jalen Lindsey to give PC a 15-14 lead but that would be the Friars’ last lead. Kellen Dunham’s jumper returned the lead to the Bulldogs and Butler was off on a 14-3 run to go up 33-19 with 3:23 left. A Paschal Chukwu free throw and Harris reverse layup cut the lead to 33-22 at the half but PC had dug itself a hole. Even in the game at Hinkle, the Friars had only trailed by 7 at the half.

Butler extended the lead to 16, at 40-24 and 46-30 on two three pointers by Alex Barlow and pristine free throw shooting. It was then that the Friars awoke from their slumber and a 19-4 run pulled PC within one, at 50-49 with 7:32 to go. Kris Dunn, who had scored just two points in the first half, keyed the second half comeback with steals and an assortment of drives and finishes at the basket. After free throws by Kelan Martin, Kyron Cartwright’s missed jumper led to a three by Martin and a block on Dunn by Chrabascz was followed by a Dunham three and Butler was back up by nine with 5 minutes to play.

Still, the Friars continued to fight but just could not get over the hump. Free throws and a stunning layup by Dunn brought the margin back to five points, but Roosevelt Jones nailed two freebies and after a Henton free throw, Butler grabbed three offensive rebounds after misses before Jones scored on a layup. A layup by Harris and a traditional three point play by Dunn cut the lead to 62-59 with :49 left, but Barlow hit his free throws and after a missed three by Cartwright, Kameron Woods hit his. Dunn flew in for another layup with :26 remaining to make it 66-61 and the Bulldogs continued their perfect free throw shooting as Dunham canned two. A Dunn three with twelve seconds left narrowed the gap and PC forced a turnover but three pointers by Henton and Harris missed and that closed the game.

Butler is an unusual team. They aren’t tall – only Woods stands taller than 6’7 – and they aren’t especially athletic but there may not be a wider team in the nation. With the exception of Woods, their players look like football players. And they play a stubborn, swarming man-to-man defense that gave Providence fits.

Normally this season, zone defenses have given the Friars trouble and PC has carved up teams that try to play man, but not against Butler. The Bulldogs stayed man for 40 minutes and PC had incredible issues trying to run its offense. With help, Woods hounded Henton throughout the first half, while Jones was all over him in the second. In fact, Henton would score just 8 points (2-10 shooting), along with 7 rebounds, and only one point ion the second half, as Butler’s defense completely took him out of the game and left him to force contested shots. Butler’s man defense really shrunk the court against PC but a lot of that was due to the Friars’ lack of outside shooting threats. Butler hit 8-18 threes, the Friars only 4.

Butler also gang rebounds extremely well. Despite a distinct height disadvantage, the Bulldogs outrebounded PC, 39-27 and 10-6 on the offensive glass. On two critical possessions in the second half, Butler had three shots at the basket because of offensive rebounding and ultimately scored on both. Those were back breakers. Woods led the way with 12 boards and after outscoring its previous two foes – Marquette and Seton Hall – by a 38-0 margin on second chance points, PC was outscored 10-9 in that category on this day.

Free throws were also a killer. While PC shot very well, hitting 14-18, Butler was perfect at 20-20. This after the Bulldogs had converted at a 40% clip in their previous game, a loss at home against Georgetown. Jones nailed 8-8, Woods 4-4 and Dunham 4-4. Sometimes, there’s just no figuring the charity stripe.

Ultimately, what did PC in, though, was the fact that they just showed up too late. For the first 27 minutes of the game, PC sleep-walked their way to a 16 point deficit that was just too much to overcome. When the Friars woke up and played hard for the final 13 minutes, they showed that they could more than hold their own against Butler. And that’s a shame.

It’s a shame because the Friars really shot themselves in the foot with this loss. A win would have clinched the second seed in the Big East Tournament and kept PC in the half of the bracket that would have kept them away from St. John’s and Villanova. On top of that, a win against a highly rated team like Butler would have added to their resume and solidified a 6 seed in the NCAAs regardless of what happens in New York. The loss, on the other hand, throws Providence down to the 4 seed and pits them against the Red Storm on Thursday in what has been a bad matchup this season for PC. And if they get past St. John’s, Nova is waiting.

But that’s Thursday. On this day, Dunn came up big, pouring in 21 second half points to finish with 23, along with 6 assists and 4 steals. Including in his efforts was a gorgeous drive to the basket where he put the ball behind his basket and lofted a floater that hit nothing but net. Also impressive was Tyler Harris, with 17 points on 7-12 shooting, 5 rebounds and solid defense.

As Ed Cooley was quick to point out to his players and members of the media after the game, “We still have a lot of basketball to play.” Let’s hope so. One thing is for certain – these slow starts and sluggish first halves have to be cleaned up if that prediction is to come true.

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