PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The hottest team in the Big East Conference? That would be Providence.
You won't get any argument from Butler head coach Brandon Miller, not after the Friars posted their fourth straight league win 65-56 Tuesday.
'They are playing very good basketball right now. They're playing together,' Miller said.
The Friars (14-5, 4-2) were led by their 1-2 punch of Bryce Cotton and fellow senior Kadeem Batts. The Big East's second-leading scorer averaging just under 23 points per contest, Cotton shook off a slow start to finish with 18 points. Batts added 14 and a career-high 17 rebounds.
'I think Bryce Cotton is so dynamic in terms of his ability to come off ball screens and make others around him better,' Miller said. 'They surround him with players who can score the basketball, and then their ability to get offensive rebounds makes them tough to defend.'
Providence head coach Ed Cooley said he is pleased with his team's performance and is looking forward to Saturday's game against Xavier.
'I think we're playing well. I think when we finally knew who our team was going to be, our guys settled into a little bit of chemistry,' Cooley said. 'Today, we didn't play our best game, but we still had an opportunity to win and found a way to win.'
Kellen Dunham led Butler (11-8, 1-6) with 17 points and Khyle Marshall added 15.
'However the other team is scheming us, we need to take the best available shot,' Miller said. 'I think our team does a good job in getting the ball to the open man and playing together. Our issue tonight was that we couldn't rebound the ball.'
The Friars out-rebounded the Bulldogs 37-22, and scored 32 points in the paint. Providence is second in the Big East in rebounding margin (plus-4).
'(Controlling the backboards) is one of our strengths,' Cooley said. 'We talk to our players all the time about the importance of second shots and limiting teams to one shot. I thought Kadeem had one of his better rebounding efforts in a couple of years. He really shouldered the load for us in the interior.'
LaDontae Henton had 14 points for Providence and Tyler Harris added 10 points despite picking up his fourth foul with 10:26 left.
Providence rebounded from a sluggish start to take a 29-26 lead at halftime. The Friars missed eight of their first 10 shots, yet were able to find their form despite Cotton scoring just two points in the opening half.
'We have five guys for us who can go for big point totals on any given night,' said Providence senior Ted Bancroft. 'Bryce has had our back basically every single game, but the guys were able to carry him in the first half.'
Cotton netted Providence's first five points of the second half. The Bulldogs remained within striking distance until back-to-back 3-pointers by Josh Fortune and Henton made it 56-49 Providence with 6:05 left.
After a Butler timeout, Cotton hit a trey and Batts followed with a foul-line jumper, and the Friars had their first double-digit lead of the contest, 61-49.
The Bulldogs scored six straight points to make it 61-56 with a minute remaining, but Providence closed out with two free throws apiece from Cotton and Batts.
Providence (14-5, 4-2) shot 46 percent from the field and scored 32 points in the paint. Butler finished with seven turnovers compared with 13 for Providence.
The Associated Press News Service
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