BY MATTHEW VANTRYON | ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
The Butler men’s basketball team hosted Providence College Sunday evening and was unable to stop a fiery Friars’ offense.
Despite a second-half surge, Butler fell 87-81.
Providence coach Ed Cooley marveled at his team’s ability to put the ball in the basket.
“Some days you look in the mirror and say, ‘How the hell did she marry me?’” Cooley said. “That was our shooting today.”
The Bulldogs (12-15, 2-13) shot well from the field at the outset, as the team hit its first six field goal attempts. Butler boasted a four-point lead five minutes into the contest.
The game was tightly contested at the start, as a sparse Hinkle Fieldhouse crowd saw three ties and five lead changes. However, the Friars (18-10, 8-7) kept pace. Butler eventually went cold, while Providence kept rolling.
Providence shot 71 percent from beyond the arc in the first half and 68 percent from the field. The Friars came into the game last in Big East Conference shooting percentage, averaging 47 percent.
Sophomore guard Josh Fortune connected on four of six attempts from behind the arc en route to 12 first-half points, while senior Bryce Cotton added 11 points.
Cotton finished with a game-high 28 points.
Butler trailed by as many as 14 in the half, and the Bulldogs trailed 46-33 going into the locker room.
A fast-paced opening period saw only seven turnovers combined and seven fouls.
Khyle Marshall scored 13 points in the half, connecting on his first three shot attempts. He hit a 3-pointer in the half, his first since November 2011 against Indiana University.
Butler stormed back in the opening minutes of the second half, going on a 14-2 run to take a 51-48 lead. Sophomore guard Kellen Dunham was a big part of the comeback, scoring eight points in the midst of the Bulldogs’ spurt.
Providence kept the contest close, leading by as many as six with less than five minutes to go. The Friars widened their lead as Butler went cold from the field again.
Junior guard Alex Barlow committed a crucial foul with less than two minutes to go, allowing Providence to get to the line and widen its lead to eight with 1:26 to play.
Butler coach Brandon Miller said mental lapses crippled the team at the end of the game.
“Unfortunately we didn’t play smart enough at the end of the basketball game to come out on top,” Miller said.
Freshman forward Andrew Chrabascz nailed a 3-pointer to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to four with 42 seconds remaining.
However, Providence excelled at the free throw line late, hitting 10-of-13 down the stretch and sealing the Bulldogs’ fate.
Providence shot 67 percent from the floor in the contest, including converting 13-of-20 shots from behind the arc.
Miller praised the Friars’ play despite Butler’s struggles.
“I give most of the credit to them,” Miller said. “They shared the ball, they moved the ball well. Part of it is on us, but they played a good basketball game.”
Five players scored in double figures for Providence. Cotton led the way with 28. Junior forward LaDontae Henton scored 15, while Fortune, senior forward Kadeem Batts and sophomore forward Tyler Harris each scored 14 points.
Dunham scored 25 for Butler, while Marshall chipped in 22. Chrabascz added 14 points.
Butler shot 49 percent from the floor and committed only six turnovers in the contest.
The 81 points was Butler’s highest scoring output since its 99-94 double-overtime loss versus DePaul on Jan. 9.
Providence hit a season-high 13 3-pointers in the contest.
Butler will travel to No. 9 Villanova Wednesday night. The Wildcats (24-3, 12-2) are coming off a win over St. John’s and have won nine of their last 10 games.
Villanova defeated Butler 76-73 in overtime at Hinkle Fieldhouse on New Year’s Eve. The team ranks second in the conference in scoring, tallying a shade under 80 points per game.
The game will tip-off at 8 p.m.