INDIANAPOLIS — Providence avoided a potentially resume-wrecking loss to Butler Sunday night and moved a step closer to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 10 years.
Bryce Cotton scored 28 points, 11 straight during a decisive first-half run, and LaDontae Henton added 15 points to lead Providence in an 87-81 win.
The Friars (18-10, 8-7 Big East), whose NCAA tournament resume couldn't afford a loss to the Big East's second-worst team, put considerable distance between themselves and Butler with a 15-4 run in the first half. During the swing, Cotton scored 11 consecutive.
With the win, Providence inched closer to an elusive tournament bid and rights itself after a tough double-overtime loss to No. 9 Villanova earlier in the week.
"It's the elephant in the room, but you've got to take it one game at a time," Providence coach Ed Cooley said.
Kellen Dunham scored 25 points and Khyle Marshall chipped in 22 for the Bulldogs (12-15, 2-13) who have now lost six straight. Dunham finished 9 of 16 and 3 of 8 from deep, while Marshall was 10 of 17 from the field. Kameron Woods added 10 rebounds.
The Bulldogs used a 15-2 run, with nine points from Dunham, to take a 50-48 lead early in the second half. Three turnovers from Providence opened the door for Butler.
Butler remained within striking distance in the game's final minutes, but saw any chance of an upset slip away when Alex Barlow fouled Cotton on a 3-point attempt. Cotton knocked down all three foul shots to put his team up 80-72 with 1:26 remaining.
"We battled, but unfortunately we did not play smart enough at the end of that basketball game to come out on top," Butler coach Brandon Miller said.
Cotton took over midway through the first half. He and Josh Fortune, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the first period, put Providence up 46-33 at halftime.
Cotton finished 5 of 7 from three-point range and all five Friars starters finished in double figures. Cotton, the nation's minutes-per-game leader, and Fortune never came out of the game.
"Bryce was Bryce again," Cooley said. "In our league and in the country, he is one of the players who is not spoken about enough. He willed us to win today."
Cotton's hot shooting set the tone for the Friars, who despite only using seven players, shot 67 percent from the field and 13 of 20 from long range.
"It's one of those games where the ball went in the basket at an alarming rate," Cooley said.