Rhode Island-Butler Preview

The Associated Press

If Butler is to remain a serious contender in the Atlantic-10, it likely can't afford to be its own worst enemy.

The ninth-ranked Bulldogs look to bounce back from their latest league defeat and remain undefeated at home Saturday against a hard-luck Rhode Island team.

After starting 3-0 in its first A-10 season, Butler (17-4, 4-2) has dropped two of three in league play. Though both defeats came on the road, the Bulldogs did not play like a top-10 team while committing a season-high 23 turnovers in Thursday's 75-58 loss at Saint Louis.

"We pretty much got punked,'' guard Rotnei Clarke said. "End of story. There's not really much to say about it. We got outclassed and we got punked.''

In his second game since missing three straight following a scary neck injury suffered in a 79-73 win at Dayton on Jan. 12, Clarke led the team with 17 points but committed a season-high six turnovers.

"It starts with me being the point guard with the ball in my hand," said Clarke, who averages a team-leading 16.7 points but has 10 turnovers in the last two. "I turned the ball over too much."

Clarke committed five of those miscues in the first half when Butler recorded six baskets and 16 turnovers on its first 29 possessions. Its overall poor shooting and inability to hold on to the ball played a big part in Saint Louis' 50.0 percent (23 of 46) effort from the field - matching a season high by a Butler opponent.

It was a far worse performance than the Bulldogs' first conference loss, 54-53 at LaSalle on Jan. 23. Butler held the Explorers to 41.1 percent shooting but fell on Ramon Galloway's winning basket with 2.7 seconds left.

"We've got to bounce back from this,'' said Butler coach Brad Stevens, whose team is a half-game behind conference co-leaders Virginia Commonwealth and Xavier. "(Saint Louis) was going to be a really hard place to win if we played well, and we knew that.

"The disappointing thing is they made us not play well.''

The Bulldogs should have a good chance to rebound at home, where they are 10-0 this season and have held A-10 foes Richmond and Temple to 36.9 percent shooting while winning by a combined 27 points. Starting with its first meeting with Rhode Island (6-13, 1-5), Butler plays five of seven at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

The Rams have dropped three in a row by a combined 10 points since winning 82-80 in overtime at Saint Louis on Jan. 19.

"Our record unfortunately does not reflect our efforts and is not reflective of who we've been and the improvements this program is making," coach Dan Hurley said after Wednesday's 70-64 home loss to VCU.

Rhode Island guard Xavier Munford, the A-10's second-leading scorer, had 17 points but committed five turnovers against the Rams.

The Rams have lost 24 straight against Top 25 opponents since a 70-63 win over No. 21 Utah on Dec. 2, 1998.

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