Providence-Rhode Island Preview
A runner-up showing at the Wooden Legacy tournament has earned Providence some national respect. Kris Dunn has already had it for quite some time.
The preseason All-American will try to stay hot as the 23rd-ranked Friars seek their best start in five years in their first road game Saturday night against rival Rhode Island.
Providence (7-1) jumped into the poll for the first time since the week of March 2 after knocking off then-No. 11 Arizona in the semifinals and falling to No. 3 Michigan State in the championship game of the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim.
The Friars proved being ranked in consecutive seasons for the first time in 37 years was no fluke Wednesday when they bounced back with an 89-66 home win over Hartford. Ben Bentil finished with 21 points while Jalen Lindsey had 15 points and eight rebounds.
Dunn, however, stole the show with 16 points, 14 assists and 10 boards to record his second career triple-double and the 10th in school history. The reigning Big East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year had a program-record 11 assists in the first half.
One of the top all-around performers in the country, Dunn is averaging 19.2 points, 8.6 assists, 6.4 boards and 3.0 steals while shooting 52.2 percent over his last five games.
''He's very unique, a stat stuffer,'' coach Ed Cooley said. ''He really gets us going when he plays with that high motor.''
Dunn hasn't done it alone for Providence, which is trying to win eight of its first nine for the first time since opening 9-1 in 2010-11. Bentil, a sophomore forward, has put up five straight 20-point performances while hitting 7 of 15 from 3-point range.
''He's been as good as anybody in the country," Cooley said of Bentil, who ranks second behind Dunn at 17.5 points per game. "It's just that he's been overshadowed by Kris."
The Friars hope to keep it going as they go after a sixth consecutive victory in this rivalry. They've won the past two at Rhode Island, but needed a free throw with 22.1 seconds left to pull out a 50-49 win Dec. 5, 2013, in the most recent meeting there.
''I think our wonderful state makes more about this game than there is," Cooley said. "It's another game that's good for our fans. To me it's business.''
Dunn finished with 22 points and nine rebounds in a 68-60 home win over Rhode Island last December. E.C. Matthews led the Rams with 27 points, but the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year candidate suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener.
Following a 58-55 home loss to Valparaiso in its second game, Rhode Island (5-2) has pulled together to win four of five. It's only blemish during that stretch was an 86-63 loss to No. 2 Maryland in the Cancun Challenge on Nov. 25.
Kuran Iverson led the way with 19 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday's 74-56 home win over Holy Cross. Hassan Martin had 16 points, seven boards and four blocks.
Iverson has stepped up of late, averaging 15.3 points over his last three games.
"It's obviously a big game in the state," coach Dan Hurley said. "It's well beyond state bragging rights, for us it's about trying to find a way to beat a Top 25 team."
The Rams only have one win over their last 30 games versus ranked opponents.