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Butler bounces back against Rhode Island

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- Less than 48 hours after a one-sided loss at Saint Louis, Butler happily returned to the friendly confines of Hinkle Fieldhouse.

The Bulldogs made themselves right at home under the basket to run their regular-season home winning streak to 14.

Ninth-ranked Butler survived a late charge by feisty Rhode Island to win 75-68 Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs did not make a field goal in the final 4:38 but connected on 8 of 10 free throws down the stretch to clinch the victory.

Rotnei Clarke scored a game-high 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field to lead Butler (18-4, 5-2 Atlantic 10).

The Bulldogs shot 48.9 percent from the field to improve to 11-0 at Hinkle this season.

The lane offered inviting space for offense. Sixteen of Butler's 23 field goals came on layups and dunks, and nearly half of its points (36) were scored in the paint.

After trailing by 13 points, Rhode Island edged to 72-68 with 1:01 remaining but got no closer.

"We exhibited the fighting spirit that's been as impressive as any team I've coached," first-year Rams coach Dan Hurley said. "It's demoralizing to walk away with so many losses in games that could have gone our way. It's gratifying to watch at times."

Rhode Island (6-14, 1-6) has lost four straight and six of eight.

Nikola Malesevic led the Rams with 18 points. Xavier Munford and Mike Powell added 14 each.

Rhode Island's last four losses have come by a total of 17 points. Its six conference defeats have come by a total of 28 points, an average of 4.7. Through its first six conference games last season, Rhode Island had lost by an average of nearly 11.

Roosevelt Jones scored 18 points, Khyle Marshall added 13 and Andrew Smith had eight for Butler, which had lost two of three. The Bulldogs outrebounded Rhode Island 32-25.

"I was proud of our guys to get away with a win," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "We finished at the rim. That helped us get on a run."

While Butler spends its seventh straight week in the national rankings, Hurley said he already sees progress downtrodden Rhode Island. The Rams haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 1999, the same year Lamar Odom's buzzer-beating 3-pointer knocked off Temple to secure their only A-10 championship.

Hurley said competing with energy and pride is the first step back.

"People have a lot of respect for the way we play our hearts out," he said. "That makes up for a lot of flaws."

It didn't equalize Butler's interior presence, which bothered the Rams repeatedly in the second half. Jones bulled down low for seven points as Butler opened the half on a 15-2 run.

"Our whole thing was trying to be aggressive," Clarke said. "We tried to get the ball in spots we wanted. We did a good job of that."

Butler led 48-35 with 14 minutes remaining after a Clarke 3-pointer and restored the margin after a dunk by Kameron Woods with 4:38 left. Rhode Island managed to produce a 10-2 run to make the game interesting in the late stages.

T.J. Buchanan missed a jumper with 20 seconds left that could have pulled the Rams to three. Two free throws by Jones ended the rally.

Clarke enjoyed his eighth game of at least 20 points after producing 12 20-point outings in three seasons at Arkansas.

Rhode Island continued its trend of playing competitive first halves. The Rams had led, tied or trailed by no more than three points at the break in each of their previous five games.

On Saturday, Rhode Island used a combination of aggressive defense and solid ball movement to lead 32-30 at intermission.

NOTES: Len Fromm, the father of Butler F/C Erik Fromm, died Saturday morning after a battle with cancer. Butler held a moment of silence before the national anthem. ... The Bulldogs have won at least 10 home games in 18 consecutive seasons. ... The sellout crowd was Butler's third of the season. The school says two upcoming home dates are already sold out, which sets a season record at five. ... Smith became the 34th player in school history to score 1,000 points. ... Munford was helped off the floor with 13:22 remaining. His left foot was taped by trainer Mike Monteiro, and Munford re-entered the game with 11:05 left.
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