The doubters can stop doubting. 12th ranked Providence College is for real. The Friars, as if they hadn’t done enough during the out of conference portion of their schedule, opened Big East play with an impressive, come-from-behind, 81-73 win over the 9th ranked Butler Bulldogs at the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.
With the win, Providence improves to 13-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big East while Butler drops to 11-2 and 0-1 to start conference play. PC also moves to an impressive 3-0 all-time at Hinkle.
Not that this game was easy. Butler is legitimately good, with a deep and talented team that came into this game second in the nation in scoring, at 89.9 ppg. And playing at home in front of a sold-out and raucous crowd can be intimidating for any team. But maybe not for a Providence team that has become used to winning, especially down the stretch.
“This was another culture win,” said an emotional Ed Cooley following the game.
The Friars certainly started well enough, shrugging off the New Years Eve atmosphere in Hinkle as they ran out to a 17-13 lead after a Rodney Bullock three-pointer. But foul trouble would haunt them as Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil both picked up their second fouls on back-to-back possessions with over 9 minutes to play and were forced to the bench.
The Bulldogs took full advantage of their absence. Kelan Martin and Roosevelt Jones scored against a Friar team that was suddenly out of sync and back on it’s heels and when Kellen Dunham hit two free throws for a 30-21 Butler lead with 4:19 left, both Dunn and Bentil returned. Dunn scored quickly, on a layup, but Bullock and Kyron Cartwright also picked up their second fouls and the Friars were unable to gain ground. The home team went to the locker room leading 36-25; PC had shot just 28 percent and was mired in deep foul trouble.
In the second half, the Friars found a spark in freshman Drew Edwards, who drilled two consecutive three-pointers, which narrowed the lead to 40-35. A layup by Bentil and a resounding slam by Dunn further energized the Friars and cut the lead to one. After a Jones layup, Bullock nailed a three and, five minutes in, the score was knotted and PC had erased the 11-point halftime deficit.
Now it was Butler who looked disorganized and out of sync. With Dunn penetrating and drawing fouls, PC took a 49-44 lead on an Edwards drive and layup, a Bentil three and a mid-range Dunn jumper. For the remainder of the game, the Friars would play with small leads or the ball in tie situations and repeatedly fight off Butler surges.
Jordan Gathers knotted the score at 49-all with a three, but Bentil quickly answered with a bank shot. Dunn buried a three for a 59-55 lead at the 8-minute media timeout, but Martin and Gathers layups again knotted the score. PC led 67-59 with 5:44 to play after a Bentil tip-in and Dunn and Bullock threes, but Butler fought back to within one on Martin free throws, a Jones jumper and a Gathers’ three.
After the media timeout, Bullock drained yet another three and PC would maintain control over the final four minutes. After a Jones jumper and free throw, Bentil nailed a crucial baseline jumper for a 76-71 lead with 1:23 left, and free throws down the stretch by Bullock, Edwards, Lomomba and Dunn sealed the win.
PC’s shooting turned around dramatically in the second half. The Friars hit 12-26 three-pointers and out-rebounded Butler, 40-37. Bullock led the way with a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds, on 6-9 three-point shooting. After scoring just 4 points in the first half, Dunn ended with 20 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds. The only negative was 6-11 shooting from the free throw line. Bentil contributed 19 points and 5 boards, while Edwards came off the bench to score 10 points along with 5 rebounds. Bullock and Edwards clearly sparked the team’s second half surge, while Dunn dominated in the second stanza.
For Butler, Rhode Islander Andrew Chrabascz was rendered ineffective by Bentil, scoring just 4 points on 2-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Martin led the Bulldogs with 20 points and the always tough Jones had 19.
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Providence now faces a quick turnaround for a Saturday afternoon game at 3:30 at the Dunk against St. John’s.