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Charlotte survives Clarke, Butler

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- Alan Major's Charlotte 49ers had a double-digit lead over Butler with 3:30 to go, and he was ready to celebrate one of the biggest wins of his coaching career in his hometown.

Rotnei Clarke almost ruined it all for him. The senior sharpshooter scored 15 points in the final 3:30, but Charlotte held on for a 71-67 Atlantic 10 Conference victory over the 11th-ranked Bulldogs on Wednesday night.

"Rotnei Clarke got like a video game out there for a while," Major said. "I'm just proud of these guys for digging in and fighting for 40 minutes because it took every bit of that 40 against these guys."

Pierria Henry scored 17 points, Chris Braswell and Willie Clayton each scored 11 points and Darion Clark added 10 points and nine rebounds for the 49ers (18-6, 6-4 in the Atlantic 10).

"Anybody got a stretcher?" Major asked. "I need to be carried out of here after that one."

Clarke scored 18 points, Roosevelt Jones had 17 points and nine rebounds, Erik Fromm scored 13 points and Kellen Dunham added 12 for Butler (20-5, 7-3), which entered the game with a 12-0 record at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

The loss knocked the Bulldogs out of a first-place tie in the conference.

"I think the right team won," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "Although I'm really disappointed that we didn't, it would have been a disservice probably for Butler to win. I thought Charlotte was great."

Butler was without center Andrew Smith, who sustained an abdominal injury Saturday against George Washington. The 49ers took advantage by scoring 38 points in the paint and out-rebounding the Bulldogs, 34-32.

"I thought Charlotte coming in was going to be really hard for us to match up with, in large part because their strengths are certainly something that we counter better with Andrew than without him," Stevens said.

Henry's 3-point play two minutes into the second half gave Charlotte a 34-29 lead, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Fromm cut Charlotte's lead to 38-37.

Henry answered again, this time with a 3-pointer, to push the 49ers' lead to four. A putback by Charlotte's Clark bumped the lead to six. Clark's basket on a nifty cut to the hoop pushed the 49ers' lead to 57-49 and forced Butler to call timeout with 5:22 to play.

Henry's jumper off a curl near the free-throw line gave the 49ers their first double-digit lead of the night.

Clarke hit two 3-pointers in a two-minute span to trim Charlotte's lead to four with 1:30 to play. Three free throws by Clarke after being fouled on a shot cut the deficit to 67-64.

Charlotte's Henry made the second of two free throws to make the score 68-64 with 12.6 seconds left.

Clarke stepped into an NBA-range 3-pointer and nailed the shot with 7.1 seconds left to cut Charlotte's lead to 68-67.

Henry made one of two free throws with 6.7 seconds left, giving Butler one last chance, but E. Victor Nickerson intercepted Chase Stigall's inbounds and made two free throws with 0.7 seconds left to seal the win for the 49ers.

Major expected Clarke to be involved in the final play.

"Obviously, I was expecting Clarke in some form or fashion, but sometimes, when you're expecting that as a coach, you may think of going the other direction just for that reason," Major said.

"We just thought if we could jump and jack them on the ball and maybe try to force them to throw a tough pass somehow and deflect it or come up with it. Vic made a nice play and stole the ball."

Stevens said the plan was to get Clarke the ball.

"It was going to Rotnei, but it didn't ever get to the point where we could make the next pass," Stevens said.

Braswell scored in close with a minute left in the first half to give Charlotte a 29-27 lead.

Charlotte missed a chance to extend its lead after Butler's Khyle Marshall missed a reverse layup. Henry's layup at the buzzer was waved off, then counted and then waved off, so Charlotte maintained a two-point lead at the break.

Clarke was held to three points on 1-for-6 shooting in the first half.

Charlotte shot 57 percent in the first half to 33 percent for Butler, and the 49ers continued their hot shooting in the second half.

"It was a big win," Nickerson said. "That's a good team. We're a good team."

NOTES: Andrew Smith of Butler was recently named a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, which recognizes excellence on and off the court. ... It was the first meeting between the schools since 1993. ... Charlotte had no offensive rebounds in the first half, while Butler had eight offensive rebounds and six second-chance points. ... Butler committed only four turnovers in the first half.
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