Providence storms back from 13 down at Butler to win; Friars are legit

Rodney Bullock threw down here, but did his most damage from deep, hitting six 3s. (Getty Images)

Rodney Bullock caught fire, Ben Bentil was a beast yet again and Kris Dunn once more looked like a First Team All-American. The Providence Friars are getting very close to becoming a team we talk about when we talk about Final Four contenders.

And given their standing in the preseason, that’s a wild turn of events.

No. 12 Providence was so impressive in the second half on the road against ninth-ranked Butler on Thursday, erasing a 13-point deficit and overcoming foul trouble from its two best players to win 81-73. The victory means the Friars (13-1, 1-0 Big East) are off to their best start in 26 years, and Ed Cooley will now firmly be in the mix of mid-season coach-of-the-year chatter.

Bullock had a career day, cashing six 3-pointers on nine attempts and finishing with a team-high 25 points and 10 boards. Dunn added 20 of his own in addition to nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals. Bentil had 19 points, plus two huge blocks down the stretch.

It was a great Big East opener in Indianapolis. Butler (11-2) took command in the first half because Dunn and Bentil each picked up two fouls, which led Cooley to yank both for the remainder of the half. Butler took a lead, commanded a 23-6 run, and PC was in a rut.

Then Providence had a 22-7 run of its own in the second half, and almost each possession down the floor was either Bullock, Dunn or Bentil providing a jolt. This Dunn dunk in transition crested the comeback.

The Friars ended Butler’s eight-game winning streak. For the Bulldogs, at least both losses have come to quality opponents; the first L came against Miami (11-1).

“Everybody stayed confident, we knew we would go on a run,” Coolely said on CBS Sports Network afterward. “It was just confidence and mental toughness. That was a culture win four us.”

Evidenced by this back-to-back sequence from Bentil, who’s become one of the most diverse big men in the nation.

Butler would have had a chance had its leading scorer, Kellen Dunham, not completely hit the skids again. Dunham is in the midst of a strange streak; he’s not made a 3-pointer in his last 20 attempts, and he managed just eight points on 14 shots against the 48th-ranked defense in the country. Butler shot just 3-for-17 from deep, as compared to PC’s 12-of-26 clip.

The Bulldogs will still be a top-25 team so long as Dunham finds his groove again, and he should. This is akin to those bizarre slumps great hitters in baseball inevitably find themselves in once a season or so.

From here, Providence has a good shot of leaping into and staying in the top 10 of the polls. The next two games are home, vs. St. John’s on Saturday and Marquette on Tuesday. For Butler and Dunham, they’ll try to get right on the road against Xavier on Saturday, then head to Chicago for a tilt at DePaul on Tuesday.

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