It seemed like a typical college basketball Saturday and #14 Butler would extend its winning streak to 11 games without blinking an eye at the Dayton Flyers. In a perfect world, it would be just that simple.
Four ties and three lead changes took the Bulldogs and host Flyers back-and-forth through the first 11:30 of the first half. Khyle Marshall received a pass from Rotnei Clarke that Marshall slam dunked, giving the Bulldogs an 18-16 lead that they wouldn't give up the rest of the game.
Dayton's Matt Derenbecker turned the ball back over to Butler on a steal by Clarke on the ensuing possession. In frustration, Derenbecker chased down Clarke on his drive to the basket at the other end and was charged with an intentional foul on Clarke's layup attempt. Play was stopped at the 8:13 mark of the first half for nearly eight minutes because Rotnei Clarke was fouled hard enough by Derenbecker that he landed awkwardly on his head and left shoulder against the backboard support padding. It was a good sign that Rotnei was able to move his arms and legs before leaving the University of Dayton Arena. Clarke was taken off the court on a flat board and stretcher, then taken to a local hospital in Dayton.
Clarke was cleared hours later to make the trip back to Indianapolis with his teammates.
Then, it was gut check time for Butler. Who was going to step up in Clarke's place in the scoring column? That would be the biggest question that the Butler coaching staff would get the answer too rather shortly.
Butler wasn't phased in the least bit without their leading scorer on the floor. After Clarke went down, the Bulldogs took off on a 13-4 run for a 31-20 lead when Dayton was forced to take a :30 timeout with 4:56 left in the half.
The average fan was probably real curious who would take the shots that Clarke normally would take. Not to worry.
The Bulldogs took an eight-point lead at 35-27 into the half.
Kellen Dunham opened up the second half with a three to extend Butler to a 38-30 advantage. The visiting Bulldogs would push away the Flyers the rest of the way. Their lead would never get bigger than 44-30, but it was enough to keep a comfortable enough cushion. Dayton cut the deficit to five at 61-56, but despite outscoring Butler in the second half 46-44, Butler managed to hold off UD just enough over the final 6:37 en route to a 79-73 road victory.
It was the three-headed monster of a frontcourt of trio Andrew Smith, Roosevelt Jones and Khyle Marshall that held off Dayton. There was a void to be filled in the scoring offense of Butler and it didn't matter how it happened, but Butler was going to make up for Rotnei Clarke's 17 points per game.
Resembling his take-over in the Indiana game, Jones led all scorers with a game-high 16 points and seven rebounds on 4-8 shooting, including 8-12 from the free throw line. Smith had a well-balanced game with 13 points, four boards and also dished out four assists to tie for the team lead with Jones. Marshall wound up with 12 points on 4-6 field goals and shockingly was without a rebound, who averages 5.6 per outing.
A total team effort following Rotnei Clarke's injury, Butler showed complete poise. With Jones, Smith and Marshall combining for just over half of the Bulldogs' 79 points (41), Butler got eight from Dunham and seven from Erik Fromm off the bench. Prior to his injury, Clarke had scored five, along with two assists and a pair of steals. Alex Barlow and Chase Stigall did their part with six points a piece.
Dayton did manage to get four players in double-figures. Vee Sanford and Dyshawn Pierre led the Flyers with 14 each. Kevin Dillard had 13 and Khari Price with 10.
Dayton was held to 39% field goals (25-63) and just 37% on 3's (7-19). Butler burned the nets for 58% (25-43) shooting and 54% on 3's (7-13). UD won the rebound battle 40-26, but with Butler's stellar shooting, it didn't matter.
Butler (14-2, 2-0 A-10) returns home this week for two home games. Wednesday, January 16, the Bulldogs host the Richmond Spiders (11-6, 1-1 A-10) at 7 p.m. ESPN's College Gameday comes to Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, January 19 for a 9 p.m. tip against #9 Gonzaga (15-1).