On a day in which the Big East season opened up with two Top 16 conference matchups, the showdown between the No. 9 Butler Bulldogs and No. 12 Providence Friars was as good as advertised. After the Bulldogs entered the half with an eleven-point lead, the Friars, led by junior guard Kris Dunn and sophomore Rodney Bullock, exploded in the second half to snatch up an 81-73 victory. Here's three things we learned tonight:
1. A Providence "Big Three" emerges
Bullock, who Providence head coach Ed Cooley was quick to point out after the game was only playing his 14th game for the team after missing last year with a leg injury, finished with a game-high 25 points and ten rebounds. Connecting on six of his nine attempts from behind the three-point line, Bullock's scoring line relieved some pressure off of Dunn and sophomore breakout forward Ben Bentil, who both battled foul trouble in the first half after picking up two early fouls. That foul trouble gave the Bulldogs the opportunity to pull away before halftime, but the Friars came out with a ton of energy to start the second half, opening things on a 24-8 run. Dunn ended the game with 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, with 16 points, seven assists and all seven of his rebounds coming in the second half.
"I told Kris [Dunn] at halftime to be the best player you can be and everything will fall into place," Cooley said after the game. Dunn's second half surge accompanied Bentil's run of his own, finishing with 19 points and five boards after scoring just four in the first half. As Bullock continues to emerge, it's becoming very clear that Providence's "Big Three" can carry the scoring load on any night. Dunn may be the Player of the Year contender, but when these three are rolling, they can match up with just about anyone in the country.
2. Martin and Jones enjoy huge nights
Kelan Martin, a sophomore guard who has enjoyed a breakout year for the Bulldogs coming off the bench, kept his scoring run alive, now putting up double figures in seven of the team's last eight games. Martin finished with 20 points and nine rebounds despite missing all four of his attempts from deep, and kept the team afloat while the two sides traded buckets in the second half. Roosevelt Jones, who fouled out near the end of the game, had 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, extending his own double-digit scoring streak to seven games. While today's loss gives the Bulldogs just their second loss of the season, it has been a rough stretch for senior guard Kellen Dunham, who has now shot just 10-of-60 from the field in the team's last five games. The Bulldogs have a tough turnaround with Xavier on the road this weekend, but the team is going to need more out of Dunham while Martin and Jones keep things afloat offensively.
3. Dunn continues to impress his way to the next level
It's no groundbreaking observation to say that Kris Dunn is clearly going to be an early NBA draft pick, but the team is even starting to talk as if Dunn's time with the Friars will likely come to an end after this season. When asked about Dunn's contribution to the team, Cooley was extremely frank after the game, saying "We're gonna have him in attack mode from the moment he wakes up, because he ain't gonna be here much longer." Watching Dunn in person is an experience unto itself, as he weaves through defenders using his rare combo of length, vision and quickness. His instincts on defense make it nearly impossible for opposing guards and wings to cut into the lane, and he guarded everyone from Dunham to Jones and even Martin and Tyler Lewis tonight. It's also a big sign to see Dunn knocking down his shots from behind the arc (he shot 2-of-3 tonight), as he was shooting just 28.6 percent from three going into tonight's contest. He's continually evolving, but it's becoming more and more clear that the clock is starting to tick down on Dunn's college career.