After traumatic flight, Bulldogs return home to face Providence

Chris Holtmann and the Butler Bulldogs have lost in six of their past seven meetings with Providence.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — Providence College has had Big East foe Butler’s number the past three seasons.

The Friars have won six of the seven meetings, including all three last season.

“I think we’ve been fortunate and we’ve matched up pretty decent with them through the years,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “We’ve had some great games against them. Many of the games have come down to the wire, just like many games in our league.”

The No. 13 Bulldogs (11-2) will get another crack when they host Providence (10-4) on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

“They’re very well-coached and obviously a lot better than people thought they were going to be,” Cooley said of the Bulldogs, who were picked to finish sixth in the Big East by the coaches.

Butler will be happy to be back on its campus — and not simply because of the home-court edge.

Following a 79-76 at St. John’s on Thursday night in the Big East opener, the team’s charter plane lost cabin pressure and was forced to land in Pittsburgh.

“There’s no doubt that was a traumatic experience for all of us but especially our inexperienced travelers,” Bulldogs coach Chris Holtmann said.

Rather than fly home Friday, the team decided to take a bus back to Indianapolis in advance of the matchup with Providence, which also lost its conference opener in an 82-56 rout by No. 17 Xavier on Wednesday night.

The Friars have lost two in a row, previously falling to Boston College 79-67.

“I’ve got to do a better job,” Cooley said of the performance against Xavier. “I don’t know what happened to our sense of urgency. I don’t think we’ve played well the last two games.”

In particular, Cooley said his Friars performed poorly defensively in those two games.

Prior to those outings, Cooley was pleased his team’s defense, allowing opponents an average of 58.9 points in the first 12 games.

Junior forward Rodney Bullock, who struggled with just two points on 1-of-11 shooting at Xavier, leads the Friars with team-high averages of 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.

Cooley said Bullock’s level of confidence has improved this season.

“Hopefully he’ll continue to play at elite level for us to have success,” Cooley said.

Junior forward Emmitt Holt, who played his freshman season at Indiana University before transferring to a junior college, is next with 13.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Butler has impressive victories over ranked teams Arizona, Cincinnati and Indiana, but Holtmann has continually described his team as a work in progress.

“We’ve had some stretches where we’ve played really good basketball and then some other times where we’ve really struggled,” Holtmann said.

The Bulldogs certainly struggled against St. John’s, which was last in the Big East last season.

“I thought our defensive approach mirrored our approach in general,” Holtmann said. “We had an immature approach to the game and we didn’t provide nearly enough resistance for them. Right now we’re a long ways from being a good team. We have a lot of stuff to figure out in a short amount of time.”

Holtmann describes the Big East as an absolute grind every game.

“In a league this good, you are really trying to see how your guys respond in the critical moments,” Holtmann said. “In those moments in the non-conference, by and large, with the exception of a couple of games, certainly Indiana State, we responded well. We have to do more consistently going forward.”