Just when it was needed the most, Butler's senior leadership came shining through at the right time. They hit the road Wednesday night (January 9) to Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia for their first conference game as members of the Atlantic 10. That senior leadership showed up bright in guard Rotnei Clarke and center Andrew Smith, who combined for 52 points as a huge part of the Bulldogs' 72-66 come-from-behind victory over the Owls.
Clarke had only combined to score 10 points in Butler's two tune-up games at home against Penn and New Orleans. He for sure got away from the shooting woes that haunted his offensive game by knocking down 6-of-10 from three-point range and 10-for-22 on his overall field goal attempts to lead all scorers with a game-high 28 points.
Smith got back to what he's capable of putting out. The 6'11 senior center poured in 24 points and 10 rebounds on 8-for-15 shooting, while nailing 7-of-7 from the free throw line.
St. Joe's had control of the game for a good part of the first half, defending their home floor well. Four straight Khyle Marshall points and a three by Clark and Butler found itself in the lead for the first time in the game, 25-22, with 8:20 left in the first half.
The Owls kept ahold the rest of the first half, outscoring Butler 18-10 to take a 40-35 lead at halftime. Ronald Roberts scored nine of his 12 points in the first half to get St. Joe's to that five-point lead at the break.
The second half started out as a back-and-forth affair. With 7:42 left in the game, Rotnei Clarke drilled a three to put Butler up 57-56, a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
From that point on, the Bulldogs showed why they're ranked 14th in the country and ran off kept St. Joe's at just enough distance on a 13-10 run over the final seven minutes to hold on for a 72-66 road win.
The St. Joe's frontcourt of CJ Aiken and Ronald Roberts got together for 25 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocked shots. The Owls' backcourt of Langston Galloway, Chris Wilson and Carl Jones tallied 33 points as a unit, but none of this was enough to hold off the offensive firepower that Butler brought.
Despite his production lately and his normally consistent shooting, Kellen Dunham saw just 17 minutes off the bench and had just one three-pointer to his credit. Sometimes, its just instinct that players know exactly what role to play in particular games.
Aside from Clarke and Smith's stellar combination, spreading out the rest of the offense worked out perfectly in the Butler Bulldogs' first Atlantic 10 conference game.
Khyle Marshall was his usually gritty defender and aggressive on the offensive end with eight points and eight rebounds. Roosevelt Jones chipped right in with four points, five boards and six assists. Starting point guard Alex Barlow filled up his part of the box score as well with three points, three rebounds, four assists and a few steals to his line.
Shooting 9-of-19 (47%) from outside the three-point arc and 75% from the charity stripe were the biggest factors that got Butler going down-the-stretch. It also helped that they only turned the ball over five times.
St. Joe's kept itself within striking distance with 10-25 three-point shooting and 14-18 (78%).
An epic opening to Butler's Atlantic 10 conference play is just the beginning of how this season will go. Before last night's game at St. Joe's, nine A-10 teams had reached the 10-win plateau. Only time will tell, but the A-10 might get as many as seven bids to the NCAA Tournament in March.
Butler (13-2, 1-0) continues this short conference road trip this Saturday as they head to Dayton (10-5, 0-1), who lost their A-10 opener last night at VCU (13-3, 1-0), 74-62.