More often than not, greatness is defined not by how much, but rather by when. Case in point: Tuesday night at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Kris Dunn, Providence College’s sure-fire first team All-American, overcame a miserable first-half performance with two key three-pointers down the stretch to lead the Friars to a 71-68 victory over the No. 18-ranked Butler Bulldogs before 10,918 fans.
Down by five points, 30-25, with 5:20 left in the first half PC coach Ed Cooley switched gears and went from man to a 3-2 zone to protect several of his Friars—including Dunn, who once again found himself in early foul trouble—from fouling out. With Dunn, the former New London High star, on the bench, it was time for someone else to step up and Tuesday night it was Kyron Cartwright’s turn to shine. The 6-0 sophomore from Compton, Calif., came through with flying colors, sinking two key shots from beyond the arc to spark the Friars to an 11-3 first-half ending run and a 36-33 lead at intermission. Dunn, the Friars’ leader and arguably the top point guard in the country, had just three points at halftime.
The Friars stumbled out of the block in the second half. Butler’s answer to PC’s zone was Kellen Dunham, who popped in two treys to spark a 14-6 Bulldog run and a 47-42 lead three and a-half minutes into the second stanza. And just then, things got even worse for the Friars. Dunn was whistled for his third foul and was sent to the bench with just over 15 minutes remaining in regulation with Providence trailing 49-45, and things did not look bright for the Friar faithful. Providence, after all, was amidst a two-game losing streak at The Dunk.
The Friars, however, remained vigilant. Ben Bentil, who had just seven points at half, scored 13 in the second stanza. Down by four, 64-60, with 4:35 remaining on the clock, Dunn, popped in a deep trey, snapping a 2-for-19 streak for the Friars from beyond the arc. That was followed by a Bentil put-back of his own miss, and just like that, Providence led 65-64.
After a Butler turnover, Dunn banked home another trey to put the Friars up by five, 71-66, with 1:12 remaining. A comfortable lead, right? Well, not exactly. Butler’s Roosevelt Jones answered with a layup 19 seconds later, cutting the Providence lead to three with just under a minute remaining. Then, Kelan Martin and Kellen Dunham were both able to get off clean potential game-tying three-point shots in the final 10 seconds of regulation. Both fell short, however, and Providence held on for a key conference victory.
Dunham led all scorers with 21 points, while Jones and Martin added 16 and 15 points apiece for the Bulldogs, who fell to 13-5. Bentil led the Friar effort with 20 points and seven rebounds, followed by Rodney Bullock (16 points, eight boards) and Cartwright (13 points).
“That was a Big East battle… a Big East war,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said. “I thought the younger guys grew up today.”
Things get no easier this time of year, particularly in a conference as strong as the Big East, which entered this week with four teams—Villanova, Xavier, Providence and Butler—all in the Top 20. And that holds particularly true for the Friars, who still have two games each remaining with No. 4 Villanova and No. 5/6 Xavier. On Saturday, the Friars will travel to Philadelphia to take on the Wildcats at the Wells Fargo Center. Tip-off is slated for noon, and the game will be televised nationally on FOX.