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Butler-Saint Louis Preview

AP - Sports

Butler got an immediate boost with Rotnei Clarke's return to action and will try to use his help to continue a strong start to its inaugural Atlantic 10 season.

The ninth-ranked Bulldogs look to maintain sole possession of first place in the conference by winning at Saint Louis on Thursday night.

Clarke missed two weeks after severely spraining his neck when he crashed into a padded basket support at Dayton on Jan. 12. Butler (17-3, 4-1) suffered its first league loss, 54-53 at La Salle on Jan. 23, in one of the three games without him.

The senior guard and transfer from Arkansas, averaging a team-best 16.7 points, played well in his first game back, an 83-71 home win over Temple on Saturday. He scored 24 points, made 13 of 14 free-throw attempts and had a career-best nine assists, nearly doubling his previous high.

"We're better in transition time when Rotnei's in the game because of the way he passes and because he's a threat to shoot when he crosses midcourt," coach Brad Stevens said. "It was heart-warming to have him back on the court, knowing what he went through and how hard it was for him."

The Bulldogs will try to ride Clarke's efforts and build on their slim lead in the A-10. There are a number of teams with two losses behind them, including Saint Louis (14-5, 3-2).

"The attention he gets makes it a whole lot easier for us as a team," forward Khyle Marshall said after scoring 19 points Saturday. "I think it makes it a whole lot easier on our guys."

Butler and Saint Louis were members of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference from 1982-91 but have met only twice since then. The Billikens won 72-54 in the most recent matchup Dec. 27, 2003, in St. Louis.

Saint Louis heads into this game having won two straight and 11 of 13. The Billikens held St. Bonaventure to 36.2 percent shooting in a 67-57 road victory Saturday as Dwayne Evans had 18 points, his best scoring performance in a little more than two months.

Evans, averaging 10.7 points, has recorded back-to-back games in double figures for the second time this season. He scored 14 in a 73-64 win at Duquesne on Jan. 23.

Leading scorer Cody Ellis (11.2 ppg) has reached double digits in three straight games, one shy of tying his longest streak this season. The Billikens' only other player averaging in double figures, Mike McCall Jr. (10.8), has been held to single digits in four consecutive games.

Saint Louis is allowing 57.8 points per game for the season but has given up 65.8 per contest in conference play. Butler is yielding an average of 62.2 in its league games.

The Billikens lead the series 16-11 and have won eight of 12 home matchups, but they've lost six in a row to top 10 teams since a 59-58 win over then-No. 2 Louisville on Feb. 12, 2003. Saint Louis, though, knocked off the last ranked team it faced, beating then-No. 20 New Mexico 60-46 on Dec. 31.

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