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No. 16 Providence rallies late, downs No. 18 Butler 71-68

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – With his team clinging to a late lead and at risk of losing consecutive games for the first time this season, Providence coach Ed Cooley walked out on the court and asked for some help.

During a timeout he raised his arms toward the Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowd, and beckoned them to stand on their feet and cheer as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” blared over the public address system.

It turned out to be exactly the jolt his team needed.

Ben Bentil scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half, and 16th-ranked Providence rallied late to outlast No. 18 Butler 71-68 on Tuesday night.

Rodney Bullock added 16 points for the Friars (16-3, 4-2 Big East), who improved to 3-1 this season against ranked opponents. It was Providence’s second victory over Butler this season.

“That was a Big East battle. A Big East war,” Cooley said. “I thought the younger guys grew up today.”

The Bulldogs held the Big East’s two leading scorers – Bentil and Kris Dunn – to 12 points in the first half. Dunn finished with nine. They entered the night averaging 19 and 17 points, respectively.

On Butler’s final possession, Kelan Martin missed a 3-pointer, the Bulldogs got the rebound and Kellen Dunham fired up a desperation 3 at the buzzer that missed everything.

Dunham led Butler (13-5, 2-4) with 21 points, including six 3-pointers, while Roosevelt Jones added 16.

The Bulldogs have lost four straight games to ranked foes.

While Dunn was saddled with first-half foul trouble, Bentil had a tough time early converting on the looks he got as Butler sent extra defenders at him.

It produced stagnant possessions for most of the game, until an offensive flurry that began with less than 3 minutes to play.

Providence’s Drew Edwards connected on one of two free throws to tie the game for the 12th time at 66 with 2:44 to play.

Following a Butler miss, the Friars took the lead for good after a scramble for the ball ended up in the hands of Bentil, who slammed in a two-handed dunk.

“I knew he was going to make a play,” Bentil said. “I knew it was going to end up in the basket. I’m glad it ended up in my hands.”

An errant pass led to a turnover on Butler’s next possession, and Dunn banked in a 3-pointer that made it 71-66 with 1:04 left.

“It’s the second time he’s done it on us. So he’s made it an art form,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said.


Butler: Had a 15-7 advantage in bench scoring. … Shot 51 percent in the second half (14 for 27). … Had 13 turnovers.

Providence: Holds a 4-1 lead in the series with the Bulldogs. … Shot 5 of 22 from the 3-point line.

A STRONG BRAND: Thanks to a loaded Big East, Providence won’t get a reprieve from facing ranked foes. The Friars next have No. 4 Villanova followed by No. 5 Xavier. Cooley said from his perspective it’s harder to find a tougher conference than the Big East this season. “When the Big East went to this new brand (and) new identity, everybody talked about ‘How competitive will it be?’” Cooley said. “We are arguably the best conference in America, top to bottom, and all the naysayers are (saying) ‘What about this one, what about this one?’ What about valuing the teams in the conference, respecting the institutions and who they are as a brand?”

STAYING POSITIVE: Dunham said despite the current losing streak to ranked opponents, the Bulldogs remain upbeat as they head deeper in the second half of the season. “We understand how great all our teams are,” Dunham said. “I don’t think we’ve hit our ceiling by any means. For us to win on the road, for us to beat a quality team on the road, for us to win on Saturday (at Creighton), we’re going to need more quality play out of more players.”

HONORING ANDREW: Providence had a pregame moment of silence in honor of former Butler basketball player Andrew Smith. The 25-year-old died last week following a two-year battle with cancer. It was the Bulldogs’ second game since Smith’s passing, and the first road game.


Butler is at Creighton on Saturday.

Providence is at No. 4 Villanova on Saturday.