INDIANAPOLIS -- Providence coach Ed Cooley kept imploring his team to play more aggressively Thursday.
Kris Dunn finally took care of it himself.
The star guard struggled with foul trouble in the first half before flirting with another triple-double, Rodney Bullock scored a career-high 25 points and No. 12 Providence rallied to beat No. 9 Butler 81-73 in the Big East opener for both teams.
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"As long as we've got Kris Dunn here, we're going to make sure he earns his scholarship because he's not going to be here much longer," Cooley said, drawing laughter.
There are no doubts Dunn's plans -- or his more immediate impact on the Friars' success.
The junior guard and preseason favorite as conference player of the year had 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds as he chased his second triple-double of the month. The Friars (13-1) have won seven straight and are off to their best start in 27 years.
Bullock started the day 7 of 26 on 3s, but went 6 of 9 against Butler (11-2). He also had 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.
Ben Bentil added 19 points and made the 3 that broke a 47-43 lead with 13:48 left, a lead the Friars didn't give up the rest of the way.
"We just, collectively, all got it together," Dunn said, explaining how the Friars erased an 11-point halftime deficit.
That's certainly not the norm for Butler, especially playing in front of a revved-up crowd eager to see the second top 15 matchup ever played at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler beat Gonzaga on that Saturday night in January 2013.
But Dunn made sure this one didn't end in the same, stunning fashion.
Butler was led by Kelan Martin with 20 points and Roosevelt Jones, who had 19 points, six rebounds and four assists. The Bulldogs had won their previous eight.
"I think part of it was their two best players were out for the bulk of the first half and they're a big part of what they do," Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. "I guess they didn't foul as much in the second half."
They also made 9 of 12 3s in the second half.
With Dunn in charge, the Friars went on an 18-3 spurt and took a 47-43 lead on Bentil's 3, which gave Providence the momentum it needed to fend off Butler's spurts.
After Butler tied it at 59, Providence broke the tie with eight straight points.
When Dunn returned to the bench after picking up his fourth foul, the Bulldogs scored seven straight to make it 67-66. But when Dunn re-entered, the Friars put it away with free-throw shooting and defense.
"Coach just told me to be more aggressive," Dunn said. "I can't really change my game, but we were more aggressive in the second half."
Providence closed out the calendar year with a perfect month, going 7-0 in December. Its only loss this season came Nov. 29, when it fell 77-64 to Michigan State on a neutral court.
THE OTHER KD
Kellen Dunham's shooting woes continued Thursday. The Butler senior had eight points on 3-of-14 shooting and is 10 for 60 from the field in his last six games.
Dunn draws quite a crowd on and off the court. Thursday was no exception. As the 6-foot-4 junior dealt with Butler's defenders, NBA scouts Kevin Mackey and Todd Lickliter, the former Butler coach, were watching.
Friars: Providence has only gone this deep into the season with one or no losses three other times, most recently when they were 12-0 under coach Rick Barnes in 1988-89. ... Indiana native Ryan Fazekas did not play. ... The Friars have won four of the first five games in the series -- all coming in the past two seasons.
Bulldogs: The Bulldogs are 7-1 on their home court. ... Dunham wasn't the only Bulldog struggling. Andrew Chrabascz, who grew up 28 miles from campus, was 2 of 11 from the field and had had four points.
Providence hosts St. John's on Saturday.
Butler visits No. 6 Xavier on Saturday.