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Butler reclaims spot atop A-10 with win over St. Bonaventure

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -Even the loss of a key starter couldn't slow Butler's march back to the top of the Atlantic 10.

Rotnei Clarke scored 17 points in the Bulldogs' 15th straight regular-season home win, a 77-58 victory over St. Bonaventure Wednesday night that moved Butler back into a tie with Virginia Commonwealth for first place in the conference.

No. 14 Butler (19-4, 6-2) lost its leading rebounder and third-best scorer Roosevelt Jones to a left shoulder injury with 18:13 to play. Jones finished with just four points, nearly seven below his season average, but the Bulldogs compensated with a balanced attack.

Andrew Smith added 13 points and Chase Stigall scored 12, his highest total in more than a year. Stigall took all of his shots from beyond the arc, hitting a season-high three 3s.

"Roosevelt goes out, my minutes increase," Stigall said. "I wouldn't like to guard us. There are so many options. That went well in the second half."

Stigall has been the target of criticism by fans, mostly because his 3-point percentage entering the night (.275) was relatively low for a player who takes so many attempts from long range. While Wednesday's success might put to rest some of that discussion, Stigall said it misses the point.

"I'm there for more than 3s," Stigall said. "I'm a defensive-minded guy. I lead. I defend. That's my role. I didn't force anything. I was in rhythm and felt good. Finally."

Stigall had his best outing since also scoring 12 in a loss to Cleveland State on Jan. 13, 2012. Khyle Marshall added 12 points as the Bulldogs shot 50 percent and made 11 of 26 3-pointers.

Butler coach Brad Stevens said Jones will be examined by doctors and could miss Saturday's game at George Washington.

Butler won its second straight after a stretch of two losses in three games that included a lopsided defeat at Saint Louis, which knocked the Bulldogs out of first. The Bulldogs improved to 12-0 at home this season.

St. Bonaventure, the reigning Atlantic 10 champion, wilted in its first trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bonnies (10-11, 3-5) were down 29-27 late in the first half before permitting Butler to go on a 27-8 run that spanned the intermission.

"The game was won in the last three minutes of the first half," St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt said. "Then we couldn't score at the beginning of the second half. When we broke down, they would knock down the 3."

Butler jumped to a 56-37 lead early in the second half with little resistance from the Bonnies, who fell to 3-7 on the road and 0-29 all-time on the road against ranked opponents.

Demitrius Conger finished with a game-high 18 points for St. Bonaventure, which shot 38.3 percent from the field and was outrebounded, 34-25.

"We made mistakes and they capitalized," Conger said. "Butler's a good team. It's hard to play catch-up the whole game."

The Bonnies entered the night shooting 37.7 percent on 3-pointers, the third-best mark in the conference. Yet they could only get off a season-low nine attempts Wednesday, making four.

"We didn't execute," Schmidt said. "Part of it was their pressure and game plan. They were getting out on us."

Clarke scored 10 points and Stigall added nine as Butler led 39-30 at halftime on the strength of torrid outside shooting.

The Bulldogs closed the half on a 10-3 run to open their largest lead to that point. Clarke contributed five points in the burst, including a runner in the lane with 5 seconds left.

The Bonnies started hot, making four of their first five shots, but quickly cooled off, missing nine of their next 13. They wound up shooting 10 of 21 (.476) and stayed close by going 7-for-7 from the free-throw line. Conger, the only player in the Atlantic 10 to lead his team in points, rebounds and assists, scored 11 in the half.

Kellen Dunham connected on a 3 to cap an 11-0 run that gave Butler a 20-13 lead. The Bulldogs shot 53.6 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes and went 7-for-11 from behind the arc. Clarke and Stigall combined for five 3s.

NOTES: St. Bonaventure's Matthew Wright did not start after missing the previous game with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. Jordan Gathers filled in at shooting guard. ... Smith was selected as one of 10 finalists for the Division I Senior CLASS award. He joined Ronald Nored and Matt Howard as the third Butler finalist in three years. The winner will be announced during the Final Four. ... Butler entered the night having won 18 of its past 19 February home games. ... Eight of the Bonnies' first 20 games were decided by five points or less.
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