Butler drops fourth straight vs. ranked foe, 71-68 to Providence

Butler guard Kellen Dunham (right) and Providence guard Ryan Fazekas scramble for a loose ball.

Stephan Savoia/AP

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It’s been one ranked team after another for Butler.

And one loss after another, too.

The 18th-ranked Bulldogs lost for the fourth time in six games on Tuesday night, falling 71-68 to No. 16 Providence in what Butler hopes will mark the end of the most challenging stretch of its Big East season. It was Butler’s fourth straight loss to a ranked opponent.

"We understand how great all our (conference) teams are. But we definitely can improve," said guard Kellen Dunham, who scored 21 points, including six 3-pointers, against the Friars. "I don’t think we’ve hit our ceiling by any means."

Ben Bentil scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half, and Rodney Bullock added 16 points for the Friars (16-3, 4-2 Big East). Providence improved to 3-1 against ranked opponents and 2-0 against Butler this season.

The Friars next play No. 4 Villanova and No. 5 Xavier — the same teams that just beat Butler (13-5, 2-4). The Bulldogs’ only non-conference loss this season was to Miami, which was unranked at the time but is now No. 15.

"When the Big East went to this new brand, this new identity, everyone talked about ‘How competitive will it be?’" Providence coach Ed Cooley said.

"We are the most competitive league in the country. It’s a basketball-centric conference and we’re super-excited about who we are and where we’re going."

The Friars fought through Kris Dunn’s first-half foul trouble to overcome a four-point deficit in the closing minutes. Dunn found Bentil for a dunk to make it 68-66, then Dunn banked in a 3-pointer to give Providence its biggest lead of the game.

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

Roosevelt Jones added 16 for the Bulldogs, who fell to 1-4 against ranked teams on the season, having beaten then-No. 17 Cincinnati in December.

BANK IS OPEN

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. 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.

Dunn banked a 3-pointer in the Friars’ Dec. 31 victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

"It’s the second time he’s done that on us," Bulldogs coach Chris Holtmann said. "So he’s made it an art form."

GOOD D

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

On Dunn, Holtmann said: "He’s a terrific player, obviously. Bottling him up is a challenge. He was in a little bit of foul trouble. That might have helped us."

IN MEMORY

In the middle of their most challenging stretch on the court, former Butler player Andrew Smith died of cancer. The Bulldogs took the court wearing patches to honor Smith, who was a member of the team that made consecutive NCAA championship games.

Before the game, the public address announcer asked for a moment of silence in Smith’s memory.

TIP-INS

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.

UP NEXT

Butler is at Creighton on Saturday.

Providence is at No. 4 Villanova on Saturday.