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Butler overcomes Clarke's injury to win 11th straight

The SportsXchange

DAYTON, Ohio -- Steady, balanced and unfazed, the win-producing machine that is Butler basketball ground out another one Saturday afternoon, even without its best player.

Despite losing leading scorer Rotnei Clarke to a scary neck injury in the first half, the No. 14 Bulldogs extended their win streak to 11, getting the kind of balance and efficiency that has become their signature under coach Brad Stevens in a 79-73 win over Dayton.

Clarke took a hard foul from Dayton's Matt Derenbecker and left on a stretcher with 8:13 left in the first half. Though he was moving his arms, head and legs, paramedics stabilized Clarke on a backboard and placed him in a neck brace before he was taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

The initial diagnosis was a sprained neck, Butler head athletic trainer Ryan Galloy said. A CT scan was negative, and Galloy said Clarke had no fractures or spinal cord damage. Clarke's parents were at the hospital with him, and Stevens left immediately after the game to join him.

The only smiles in the Butler locker room came after word spread that Clarke was feeling better. This kind of winning -- even on a new stage -- has come to be expected.

Butler improved to 14-2 overall and 2-0 in its new conference, the Atlantic 10, with its second road win in three days over an opponent expected to finish in the top half of the conference standings. The Bulldogs, national runners-up in 2010 and 2011, left the Horizon League for the Atlantic 10 last spring.

After a rebuilding season last year, Butler showed why it is almost certainly on its way back to the NCAA tournament. In a hostile environment at University of Dayton Arena, Butler's defense and patience created easy scoring opportunities, and though Dayton won the rebounding battle 40-26, it seemed the Bulldogs got every big rebound.

That's just the way they do it.

"There came a point that we just wanted to win it for Rotnei," Butler center Andrew Smith said. "It's hard to see that, and it's hard to not know for sure if he's OK. We had to lock in and just focus on finishing the game, on getting the win the way he'd want us to."

Ten Butler players scored, three in double figures, and Stevens' makeshift lineups with Clarke out kept finding ways to create big baskets and turn back Dayton rallies. Butler's Roosevelt Jones led everybody with 16 points and also had seven rebounds. Smith had 13 points, and Khyle Marshall scored 12.

Chase Stigall hit a pair of big 3-pointers in the second half, and Smith hit one with 4:45 left to stretch what had been a shrinking Butler lead back to eight, 68-60. The Bulldogs made their free throws down the stretch, too, to maintain a little breathing room and ultimately to seal it.

Clarke had five points and two steals before the injury. He came into the game averaging 17 points per game and is the second-most accurate 3-point shooter in the country at 44 percent. It was unclear whether he hit his head or his shoulder -- or both -- on the basket support after Derenbecker's foul, but he remained on the floor for several minutes.

"He's in a lot of pain," Galloy said. "But he's awake. He's encouraged it's not worse. He wanted to come back to the game. He's emotional more than anything else."

Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Stevens relayed back to his staff that Clarke might be discharged in time to ride the bus back to Indianapolis with his teammates.

Those teammates started to take control of the game immediately after Clarke's injury, stretching what had been a two-point lead to 11 by the five-minute mark of the first half. Butler led by as many as 14 early in the second half.

Dayton (10-6, 0-2) made its runs in the second half, trimming a Butler lead that had grown to 14 down to five on three occasions. The Flyers even cut it down to four in the final 30 seconds before a pair of free throws by Kellen Dunham and a miss by Derenbecker that was Dayton's last gasp.

"It was an awesome college basketball game," Dayton coach Archie Miller said. "For whatever reason, we didn't have enough pop today. And a lot of that goes to Butler, because they have that ability to sap your spirit at both ends.

"We had some guts there to make a few runs, but we weren't good enough against an excellent team."

Dayton had the ball trailing by six in the final 1:45, but Kevin Dillard's drive ended with a Butler deflection and the ball going out of bounds off Dillard's leg.

Vee Sanford and Dyshawn Pierre each scored 14 for Dayton, and Dillard had 13.

"It's hard to lose a guy like Rotnei who does so much," Butler point guard Alex Barlow said. "We just had to stick together, kind of weather the storm. We knew Dayton was going to keep fighting back, and we were able to get enough baskets to hold them off."

NOTES: Barlow, a sophomore walk-on from nearby Springboro, has started the last nine games and hit the game-winner of Butler's upset of No. 1 Indiana on Dec. 15. His parents are Dayton season-ticket holders, and he estimated he's seen hundreds of games in UD Arena. This was his first as a college player. ... Dayton's upset bid was hurt by senior center Josh Benson's foul trouble. Benson picked up two fouls in the first four minutes and a third less than two minutes into the second half. He finished with six points and two rebounds. ... Galloy said Clarke will be back this season, but it's too early for a timetable. Butler plays its first A-10 home game next Wednesday vs. Richmond, then hosts No. 9 Gonzaga next Saturday. ... Of the Derenbecker foul on Clarke, Andrew Smith said there was no ill will. "Just playing hard, two guys going at it," Smith said. "It was a hard foul, but we didn't think it was malicious."
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