Butler Wins A-10 Tournament Opener

Butler Wins A-10 Tournament Opener
Senior Rotnei Clarke (Photo by John Fetcho)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Seniors Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith combined for 39 points to help lead Butler to a 73-67 victory over Dayton in the opening round of the 2012-13 Atlantic 10 Conference Men's Basketball Championship on Thursday (March 14).  The win sends the fifth-seeded Bulldogs to a match with No. 3 seed La Salle at 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Friday (March 15) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Clarke, facing Dayton for the first time since suffering a serious neck injury against the Flyers on Jan. 12, led all scorers with 21 points.  He matched his season-high with six three-point field goals in the game, picking up three in each half.  The 6-0 Butler guard scored 11 points in the first half and added 10 more in the final period.

"It's a tribute to the guys on the team," Clarke said of his scoring total.  "Andrew, Fromm, Khyle, Kam, Rose, they set great screens for me, especially when I'm off the ball, and in transition I got a couple of good looks.  It's all because of these guys because they look for me when I'm open.  It's a really unselfish team."

Smith chipped in with 18 points and six rebounds.  The 6-11 Butler center hit six of 11 shots in the game, including two of three from beyond the three-point arc.

The Bulldogs (25-7), who led 33-30 at halftime, found themselves having to come-from-behind in the second half.  Dayton (17-14) opened the final period by attacking the basket, and the Flyers put together a 13-6 run to grab a 43-39 advantage.

Butler's answer came from the perimeter.  Clarke hit a pair of three-point field goals and freshman Kellen Dunham added a third around a lay-up by Dayton's Josh Benson, and the Bulldogs were back in front for good.

Junior Erik Fromm came off the bench to give Smith a rest and proceeded to score nine consecutive points for the Bulldogs to stretch Butler's lead to ten, 62-52, with just over five minutes remaining.  Dayton tried to mount a late charge, but the Bulldogs held on at the free throw line to post the six-point victory.

The Flyers, who lost the first meeting with Butler, 79-73, in January, grabbed the early advantage in the game, leading for most of the first 10 minutes.  The Bulldogs overcame a 14-10 deficit midway through the opening period on the strength of three Dunham free throws and a lay-up by junior Khyle Marshall.  Butler went on to lead by as many as eight points, before settling for the three-point halftime advantage.

"We were probably a little passive at first.  We didn't play aggressive enough or hard enough," Clarke said of Butler's start to the game.  "We got in the flow a little bit and shots started to fall."

Butler finished the game with ten three-point field goals from four different players.  The Bulldogs also hit 15 of 21 shots from the free throw line, including six of seven by Dunham.

Marshall, Dunham and Fromm each finished with nine points.  Sophomore Roosevelt Jones posted a game-high six assists, while Clarke added five.

Center Josh Benson led four Dayton players in double-figures with 18 points.  Dillard added 15, Dyshawn Pierre finished with 12 and Vee Sanford posted 11.