Unlike many seasons past, Madison Square Garden has proven in recent years to be a relatively comfortable environment for Ed Cooley’s Friars. Providence has performed well against St. John’s here, and has more importantly demonstrated composure and a high compete level at the Big East Tournament under Cooley’s leadership, including the Big East Championship in 2014.
Of course, post season basketball is all about what have you done for me lately, and Providence still did have some proving to do to fully shake off their brutal February. Given that, the Friars came into their Big East quarterfinal matchup as 3.5 point underdogs versus Butler despite having swept the Bulldogs in the regular season. The Friars game against the Butler appeared like more of an NCAA seeding game than a knock out game, but neither team wanted to leave anything to chance or go home early from New York.
Providence came out of the gate very strong from the field and was up early as they went fro 6-6 from the field while Butler was struggling at the 15 minute mark down 8 and going 2-8. Jalen Lindsey carried over his quality play at the Garden a week ago with 5 points over the first 10 minutes and battled hard on the glass and with his defense.
However, it was the Ben Bentil show really from the beginning in this one as the Super Sophomore was on fire for most of the first half including starting 7-8 from the field to lead Providence to a 29-17 lead at the 5:44 mark. Kris Dunn was active and confident early, highlighted by a few pretty drives and one thunderous dunk. The league MVP finished the half 3-3 from the field with 7 points and 5 assists, and seemed to know when to put his foot on the gas.
Kris Dunn: “As a point guard, you have to know when to score and when to get the ball to your guys. Really, they’ve been stepping up huge down the stretch. Really always trust my teammates. In believe in my guys and what they can do.”
The Friars could have blown open the game, but some deadly three point shooting really saved Butler in the first half. The Bulldogs were an incredible 7-10 in first half led by Kellen Dunham’s 11 points, even though Providence limited them to only shooting 11% inside the paint. Once Ben Bentil cooled off over the last 5 minutes, the entire Friar team followed him into the ice bucket, and Providence did not manage to make a field goal over the final 4:50 of the first half. Chris Holtmann had a right to feel great going into halftime, only down two points to the Friars who had shot 50% for the half. “I think we closed the half well”, said Holtmann, “but I don’t know that I ever felt like we necessarily had the momentum.”
Butler came out in the 2nd half and kept the pressure on the Friars, scoring the first 5 points of the half to take a 35-32 lead. At that point, Jalen Lindsey hit a huge 3 point shot to give Providence 36-35 lead, but Butler continued to attack as well and tied things up at 38. That would prove to be the last point in the game that Butler could hang with the Friars, for another Friar run was about to begin.
As Ben Bentil goes, so do the Friars, and once the big man hit a couple shots in the 2nd half, Kris Dunn followed suit with a couple sparkling drives to the basket that launched the Friars back to a 51-45 lead with 12:08 remaining in the game. With more Bentil fireworks that included floating hook shots, baseline jumpers, and of course three point baskets, the Friars extended their lead to 56-47 with 9:27 left and really never looked back.
Holtmann: “We had no answer for Bentil. We had zero answer. We threw the house at him a few times. We tried to play zone. We had no answer for him. He was outstanding”.
The Friars biggest lead of the game was 19 points and came with a little under four minutes to play. The final outcome was not in doubt by that point. Bentil had put on a show at the garden that had the crowd on their feet.
Cooley on Bentil: “Ben, I told them in the room, I was a fan today…that was a great offensive display. I haven’t seen that in a long, long, time in our league.”
Bentil ended up with 38 points in the game that ties Greedy Peterson for most points scored by a Providence player in Big East Tournament play and second most points scored in a Big East Tournament game. Kris Dunn also had a very good game, scoring 15 points on 6-8 shooting, 7 assists, and a couple of crowd pleasing plays at the basket. Jalen Lindsey and Rodney Bullock both rebounded well and did a lot of the dirty work that carried Providence defensively, while Kyron Cartwright dished out 6 assists with zero turnovers. For the game, Providence shot 55.4% and nearly 43% from behind the arc. More importantly, they shut down the Butler three point shooting machine in the 2nd half, and limited the Bulldogs to a paltry 60 points, which is way off their Big East average of over 75 points per game, and over 80 in their last 10 games.
Cooley: “Our guys were dialed in the last couple of day preparing. We’re hungry. I think our kids played today with passion and a purpose. They followed the scouting report. They followed a plan.”
Chris Holtman: “Give Providence credit. I thought they played well. They have a couple of difficult matchups for us. And those difficult matchups we certainly struggle with. Ben being at the top of the list there…so give them credit.”
Kellen Dunham led Butler with 17 points, and Kelan Martin also was very effective at times with 13 points. However Roosevelt Jones, who is really the heart and soul of Butler, was limited by Providence to just 5 points on an anemic 1-9 shooting day.
Ben Bentil’s ankle definitely looked sore in the closing minutes of the game, and it’s expected Providence will have him in the rehab boot tonight in order for him to hopefully recover enough for the big matchup with 1 seeded Villanova in the Big East semifinal. Bentil has been an offensive superman for Providence, and his team will need more of that in order to knock off the Wildcats like they did on Super Bowl Sunday.
Ben Bentil: “From the beginning of the season, Coach told me I’m going to be a matchup nightmare. I let that sink in. I did. I tried to take advantage of whoever was put on me, and I’ve tried to make the best out it.”
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The Friars and Wildcats will battle at 6:30 p.m. on Friday on FoxSports1 at Madison Square Garden. Get your popcorn.