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White leads Friars in Big East Tournament opening round victory over Butler, 80-57

After a slow start to the game, the Friars exploded. Maliek White led Providence with a career-high 19 points.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament-Butler vs Providence Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Kyron Cartwright stepped up and led the charge for the Providence Friars throughout the Big East Tournament. He elevated his play in a way that was big time, as he and the Friars circumvented overtime games and pulled off upset victories.

This season, it looks like Maliek White is trying to do the same thing.

The eighth-seeded Providence Friars had swept the ninth-seeded Butler Bulldogs throughout the regular season, because of this, maybe they had felt they were a lock to advance to take on the Big East regular season champion Villanova Wildcats in a rematch of last season’s dramatic championship game.

Butler (16-16) capitalized on a lethargic start by the Friars. The Bulldogs gave up a quick opening bucket to the Friars, but went on a 17-5 run to take a solid double-digit lead. Providence (18-14) struggled to get going, but it eventually found its footing.

”I thought we were a little nervous,” said Providence head coach Ed Cooley, about his team’s sluggish start. “A little tight, a little antsy. This was our third time playing them in 16, 17, 18 days, so we were very familiar with each other with what we were trying to do.”

White served as a catalyst for the Friars. After missing his first three shots of the game, White followed up by making each of his next eight shots--including a stretch where he drained three-consecutive treys to help the Friars come back, take the lead, and pull away. Providence hardly looked back, as his infectious hot hand spread to his teammates. The Friars sustained the efficient offense, while locking down on a frustrated Bulldog squad, en route to a dominant 80-57 opening round victory.

”There’s something about this building that’s spectacular for the Friars,” Cooley said. “We didn’t come out the way we wanted to--a little jittery, a little nervous. I was really proud of our guys on how we responded. I thought defensively, we were good, but I thought this was one of our more complete offensive games. After that time out, I think they went on a 10-0 run and called time out, and I thought we settled down and played A-plus basketball--offensively, defensively, our rotations were good.”

It was quite the performance for White--who didn’t score a single point until he hit a layup to cut the Butler lead down to four, with 3:31 remaining in the first half. White never slowed down from there, as he enjoyed a career-high scoring performance. Young finished with a game-high 19 points.

”My teammates just gave me confidence to keep shooting the ball,” White said of his hot-shooting night. “I know i started out missing those three open threes. At the time out, our coach told us to just keep on shooting. I kept on shooting, and I was fortunate that they kept going in.”

His play helped spark the Friars, who quickly got going after an ugly 3-of-14 shooting clip (21.4 percent) to start the game. Providence went a revamped 26-of-38 (68.2 percent) the rest of the way. The Friars were efficient down low, and they flourished in drive-and-kick situations, as shooters capitalized on open looks from the perimeter.

Providence finished the first half making 11 of its final 13 shots to take a 38-27 lead at halftime.

In the second half, the Friars never let up. After an exchange of baskets between both teams, the Bulldogs managed to the cut the lead down to as low as six, before the Friars rattled off a decisive 21-5 run over the next 7:27 to finish things.

Aside from White, three other Providence players finished in double figures. Alpha Diallo had 18 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. David Duke Jr. had an efficient 6-of-8 shooting performance, en route to a 16-point game. Isaiah Jackson had 13 points.

For Butler, Jordan Tucker was a bright spot in his first-ever Big East Tournament game. He had a solid showing from long range for the Bulldogs, knocking down 4-of-7 three-pointers and finishing with a team-high 14 points. Aaron Thompson was a perfect 5-of-5 on the floor for Butler. He had 12 points, four rebounds, six assists, and a pair of steals.

”Ton of a credit to Coach Cooley of Providence,” said Butler head coach LaVall Jordan. “They deserved to win and advance with the way they played. Tough one to swallow for our group. Don’t know if it’s going to be our last game or not--I thought our guys had a great fight, start went well, but they they adjusted midway through the first half and made it a smash mouth game to get back in it.”

Providence advances to tomorrow’s quarterfinal matinee, where it will take on the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats. Tip-off is scheduled for 12 p.m. ET.