The #9 Butler Bulldogs got a balanced effort offensively on Saturday, as they held off a pesky Rhode Island squad that had upset in mind, almost getting their way, losing to Butler 75-68.
Heading into Saturday, February 2nd's matchup with fellow Atlantic 10 foe Rhode Island, it didn't look like it would be that close of a game, on paper that is. Prior to their first trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the Rams were just 6-13 and struggling to find their team identity in A-10 play. Rhode Island only has one signature win to its credit thus far in the 2012-13 season. Two weeks ago, the Rams got a huge road victory at Saint Louis (82-80 in OT), a team that beat these same Butler Bulldogs by 17 (75-58) on Thursday.
Butler found itself playing from behind for a majority of the first half and it wasn't the easiest of tasks to dig out of this hole they dug vs. URI. Rotnei Clarke knocked down a key three with 4:51 left in the first to tie it up at 28-28. BU's next opportunity down, Andrew Smith sank a pair of free throws to give Butler its first lead at 30-28. The Rams' Xavier Munford knotted things back up at 30-30 with two of his own free tosses. Andre Malone made a jump shot with 1:31 left before the half to give the feisty visitors a 32-30 edge after 20 minutes of play.
Roosevelt Jones nabbed Butler's first bucket of the second half to even the score again at 32-32. After that, Rotnei Clarke was fouled as he made a three-pointer. Clarke followed that with a free throw for a four-point play and a 36-32 lead, which they wouldn't give back to Rhode Island.
The Bulldogs were able to keep the Rams at a good enough distance to hold them off for the win, but their lead never got bigger than 13 points just a few times down the stretch.
URI made one more push to test the Bulldogs in the final four minutes. Down 67-56 with 4:14 on the scoreboard clock, the Rams had a 12-8 run to end the game, but it wasn't enough as #9 Butler held on for the 75-68 win, improving to 11-0 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the season.
Rhode Island (6-14, 1-6 A-10) was led in the scoring column by Nikola Malesevic with a team-high 18, followed by both Mike Powell and Xavier Munford with 14 each. The Rams shot just 40% (20-50) and 4-11 from three (36%), but it was their free throw shooting that really kept them within striking distance throughout, sinking 24-of-28 (86%) from the charity stripe.
#9 Butler (18-4, 5-2 A-10) also shot extremely well from the free throw line, making 24-of-27 (89%), which was one of the bigger factors that helped stave off the Rams' late push.
Rotnei Clarke led all scorers with a game-high 23 points on 8-13 shooting (5-8 on 3's). Roosevelt Jones netted 18 with 6 rebounds and four assists, not to mention drilling 8-for-8 on his free throws. Khyle Marshall finally got back out of the offensive shell that he was in by scoring 13 for the Bulldogs.
BU gets to stay home and host the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (10-10, 3-4 A-10), who earned a 10th victory on Saturday with a home win over Duquesne (68-60) for its third win in their last four games. The Bonnies and Bulldogs will meet up on Wednesday, February 6 at 7 p.m. and can be seen locally in Indianapolis on My-INDY-TV 23.