INDIANAPOLIS- Jared Bynum made two free throws with 38 seconds left in overtime and No. 8 Providence rallied from a 19-point deficit to beat Butler 71-70 Sunday.
Down 43-24 early in the second half and still trailing by seven points with 2 1/2 minutes left in regulation, the Friars (22-4, 12-2 Big East) pulled off the comeback.
Nate Watson scored 22 points and Noah Horchler had 15 points and 11 rebounds to help keep Providence atop the conference standings. Horchler’s basket with 23.4 seconds to go in the second half made it 64-all and forced the extra session.
Chuck Harris had 17 points and Aaron Thompson added 16 for Butler (13-15, 6-11), which has lost three in a row. The Bulldogs never trailed over the final 36 minutes of regulation, and Jayden Taylor missed an open 3-pointer at the end of OT.
The Friars weren’t themselves without injured starting guard Al Durham – they started 4 of 24 from the field and dug themselves into a 32-15 deficit. Butler extended the margin to 19 with about 16 minutes left.
Providence cut the deficit to 52-43 with 8:53 left, then steadily closed the gap before making it 56-54 on Watson’s dunk with 4:20 remaining. After the Bulldogs answered with a three-point play from Bo Hodges and a basket by Bryce Golden, Providence rallied again.
The Friars finally tied the score at 64. Butler’s Aaron Thompson had a layup blocked at the rim with 1.8 seconds left and A.J. Reeves’ buzzer-beating heave was off the mark to force overtime.
Watson’s putback with 2:08 to go gave Providence a 69-68 lead and after Butler made two free throws, Bynum made two more for the final points of the game.
Providence: A week ago, the Friars looked like they might coast to their first Big East regular-season crown. Sunday’s victory should keep them in the lead after Tuesday’s home loss against No. 10 Villanova. A road trip to to Villanova still looms but a loss at Butler would have been damaging.
Butler: The Bulldogs nearly got back to .500 for the first time since mid-January with a second straight win over a ranked foe. With three regular season games and the Big East Tournament still remaining, Butler still needs to do some major work to make its case for a postseason bid.
On Monday, the Friars earned their highest ranking in more than six years. It still could be a short stint in the top 10. But surviving this one should take some of the sting out of Tuesday’s loss.
Providence: Hosts Xavier on Wednesday.
Butler: Visits Seton Hall on Wednesday.