In what Ed Cooley called a “must win,” Providence had just enough to pull out a 71-68 victory over the 18th ranked Butler Bulldogs. With the win, PC improves to 16-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big East.

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It wasn’t so much that Providence played well. And it certainly wasn’t that PC shot well. But the Friars played hard and competed and hung around just long enough to make a few critical plays down the stretch to win the game. With the upcoming schedule – a visit to 4th ranked Villanova, home to 5th ranked Xavier and a trip to Georgetown – in the cards, beating Butler at home was pretty near a must, especially after two home losses already to Marquette and Seton Hall.

Cooley had talked about pace and the need to attack rather than wait and feel out an opponent and to that end, he inserted Kyron Cartwright into the starting lineup in place of Jalen Lindsey. That move appeared to pay dividends as the Friars avoided another slow start. Paced by the speedy point guard, PC was pushing the ball but missing shots and fell behind 14-8, before catching up on two Rodney Bullock layups.

The Friars continued battling on even terms but foul trouble disrupted the flow, as Bullock, Junior Lomomba, Kris Dunn and Drew Edwards all picked up two first half fouls and shuttled in and out over the last ten minutes of the half. Butler inched ahead to lead 30-25 before a PC rush, capped by two Cartwright threes gave the Friars a 34-30 lead. Kelon Martin answered with a three but the Friars went to the locker room up, 36-33, after a short jumper by Edwards at the buzzer.

The Bulldogs wasted no time erasing PC’s lead as the second half began, as Kellen Dunham heated up and buried two threes for a 41-38 lead. A third three by a now loose Dunham stretched the lead to 47-42. The Friars continued to battle the Bulldogs and their own poor shooting and when Roosevelt Jones snuck inside for a layup for a 54-48 lead, Cooley called a quick timeout with 12:45 to play.

A switch to zone sparked new intensity as PC as a layup and two free throws and two freebies from Ben Bentil knotted the score and then a nifty pass from Bentil to Bullock for another inside hoop put the Friars up and the raucous crowd of 10,918 fully into it. Martin quickly tied the score and Dunham buried another three and the visitors were up, 59-56. A dribble drive layup by Ryan Fazekas pulled PC within one but Tyler Wideman hit one free throw and Bentil knotted the score again with two freebies.

With both teams scratching for points and nothing coming easily for Providence, a Dunham jumper and Wideman dunk gave the Bulldogs a 64-60 lead with just 4:35 to go. Up until this point, Kris Dunn had 3 points and had been held in check by foul trouble and excellent defense by Jones. Now Dunn buried a long, top of the key three and after Martin missed a three, Bentil rebounded his own miss and layed in a basket for a 65-64 Friar lead. Again, Martin answered with a jumper and Edwards hit one of two free throws to tie the score with 2:44 left.

When Martin missed another jumper, the Friars scrambled to find a shot. With the shot clock winding down, Dunn drove into the lane and zipped a pass underneath to Bentil, who dunked for a 68-66 lead. Martin turned the ball over and, in the game’s key sequence, Dunn banked in a long three for a 71-66 advantage with 1:11 on the clock. However, the Friars weren’t out of the woods.

Jones quickly knifed through the lane for a layup. Providence ran down the shot clock and Edwards and Dunn attempted to score but the ball hit the underside of the backboard and bounced out of bounds with two seconds on the shot clock. Bentil’s corner three rimmed in and out and Butler raced downcourt. Again, Jones drove into the lane and barreled towards the basket but Bentil drew an offensive charge and the Friars had the ball, up three, with 14 seconds to play.

On the inbound play, Dunn bulleted  a pass at Bullock’s ankles that ricocheted to Butler and Martin launched a three that scooped around the basket and came off to Wideman who passed to Dunham in the left corner. Dunham was off balance, however, and his last gasp three was wide of the mark and hauled down by Bentil, ending the game.

Providence had survived – barely. The Friars were outshot, 47 to 42 percent and made just 5-22 threes. Of those, Cartwright hit three and Dunn two and the rest of the team shot 0-12. Where the Friars won the game was on the glass, 37-32 and 15-10 on the offensive boards and at the free throw line, hitting 18-25 compared to Butler’s 9-15. Bentil led the way with 8-10 free throws and 20 points, while Bullock bounced back with 16 points and 8 rebounds and Cartwright had 13 first half points.

For now, relief is in the air in Friartown – at least until Saturday, when PC travels to play Villanova.

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