It was just one game, but Butler showed in its Atlantic-10 debut this week why it is one of the teams to beat.
The 14th-ranked Bulldogs go for an 11th consecutive victory Saturday at Dayton, where these teams will meet for the first time since they shared the same conference 20 years ago.
Playing its first A-10 game after moving from the Horizon League, Butler (13-2, 1-0) went on the road to defeat preseason league favorite Saint Joseph's 72-66 on Wednesday. The Bulldogs trailed by five at halftime but held the Hawks without a field goal for a nine-minute stretch in the second half and scoreless for the final 2:55.
"I'm most excited about the fact that we stayed the course with what we said we were going to do and nobody panicked when things didn't necessarily go our way," said coach Brad Stevens, whose team is off to its best start since opening 19-1 four seasons ago. "That is a good thing going forward."
So is the play Stevens saw from top scorer Rotnei Clarke and fellow senior Andrew Smith. Clarke, averaging 17.0 points, scored a season-high 28 and made six 3-pointers after being held to a combined 10 points in the previous two games while going 2 for 15 on 3s. Smith had season bests of 24 points and 10 rebounds following a three-game stretch in which he totaled 26 and 12, respectively.
The Bulldogs, who play their A-10 home opener Wednesday versus Richmond, will meet Dayton (10-5, 0-1) for the first time since the 1992-93 season - the Flyers' last in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference before moving to the A-10.
Dayton fell to the conference's other newcomer Wednesday, 74-62 at Virginia Commonwealth for its third loss in five games.
Senior point guard Kevin Dillard, the team leader with 15.1 points per game, paced the Flyers with 17 but also committed seven of their league season-high 26 turnovers.
"The bottom line was the points off turnovers (30) and the opportunities we gave them off of our turnovers were just too much," said coach Archie Miller, whose team commits the third-most turnovers per game (15.0) in the A-10.
Miller, brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, was pleased with his team's work on the glass Wednesday as Dayton outrebounded an opponent for the first time in five games behind 11 boards from A-10 leading rebounder Devin Oliver (8.8 per game). The Flyers now face a Bulldogs team which owns the best rebounding margin in the conference at 8.3.
Dayton needs to limit Butler's offensive rebounding opportunities as that could lead to more field-goal attempts by Clarke, second in the league in 3-pointers made (3.9) and attempted (8.7).
The Arkansas transfer has shot 16 of 25 from 3-point range and averaged 21.0 points during Butler's three-game road winning streak, its longest since a four-game run Feb. 5-March 8, 2011.
"That's what you work for, being able to go on the road and play in tough venues with hostile crowds and being able to hit shots that quiet crowds," Clarke said. "I think that's one of the fun things about playing on the road."
The Flyers are 7-2 at home, with both losses coming by one point, and nine of the last 13 ranked teams to visit Dayton have lost.
The Bulldogs have won four straight in this series, including the last two on the road, to improve to 11-10 against the Flyers.
- Sports & Recreation