Not even the Dunk could slow down the Butler Bulldogs.
Ed Cooley and his Providence Friars have owned Butler since the re-alignment of the Big East, especially in Providence where the Bulldogs had won just once before Friday night’s game; but this year’s Butler squad was ready for the challenge and stifled the Friars’ offense on the way to a 70-58 victory.
Providence fans famously stay on their feet until the Friars score their first basket of each game and on Friday they stood for a long time — to be exact, 6:34 of game time passed before Maliek White put in a circus shot off the glass to get Providence on the board. Shortly thereafter, Alpha Diallo canned a three-pointer, making the score 9-5 in favor of Butler. This was as close as the Friars would get all night.
Butler’s defense, helped along by some poor Providence shooting, made for a nightmarish game offensively for the home team. Despite Diallo’s 21 points, the Friars scored just 58, shooting 31.7% from the field and just 24% from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs also dominated the battle of the boards, outrebounding Providence 44-26.
On the other side of the ball for Butler, Jordan Tucker was the star. Tucker has gotten more and more comfortable in his sixth man role as the season’s gone on and Friday he put on a Jamal Crawford-esqe performance, torching Providence off the bench. Tucker scored 17, tying for the team lead, and bailed the Bulldogs out a few different times by making a play with the shot clock winding down.
The Bryce Brothers were also big (no pun intended) in this one, leading the aforementioned rebounding effort with nine (Golden) and seven (Nze) boards. They also combined for 24 points, although Nze’s six turnovers were one of the only major sore spots for Butler. Of course, Baldwin’s effort cannot be ignored as he also scored 17 and pulled down seven boards himself.
Diallo was a bright spot for the Friars, but just didn’t have enough help. The other four starters for Providence shot just 4-20 from the field.
Butler: Tucker Raises the Roof
Jordan Tucker didn’t really “raise the roof” on Friday since the Bulldogs were on the road. What I mean to say is that he raises the ceiling. Butler faithful rejoiced to see Tucker’s barrage of jump shots making the Friars run for cover because everybody knows how talented he is. The Bulldogs have been waiting on Tucker to find a consistent role and thrive in it and it looks like he may have done just that.
Butler defends, rebounds, controls tempo, and executes offensively as well as anybody in the nation, but if there is a deficiency on this team it’s the ability for individual players to find ways to score when the defense is taking away their bread and butter. Baldwin can do this, but hampered as he’s been by foul trouble and injuries, he can’t always be relied on to carry the load. Tucker can fill this gap and he did so magnificently against Providence. Tucker alone can take Butler from being a great team to being elite.
Providence: Gotta Find a Playmaker
Providence simply couldn’t get anything going on offense Friday, which is somewhat excusable considering the opponent. However, what is concerning is the fact that the Friars didn’t have anybody that seemed capable of making a play against a tough defense. Diallo did have 21 points, but he shot 8-18 and had to work for those eight field goals, making difficult, contested shots. The Friars had just eight assists, with nobody logging more than two.
Luwane Pipkins and David Duke have typically been the ones to set up teammates this year with both averaging almost four assists per game. Pipkins was a complete non-factor against Butler and Duke had 15 points but, like Diallo, wasn’t really able to open anything up for the rest of the team. Providence has to get more from Pipkins especially and find a way to get into the teeth of elite defenses.
Butler hosts Seton Hall on Wednesday, January 15, at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Providence hosts St. John’s on Wednesday, January 15, at 8:30 p.m. ET.