It looked like it was going to be Butler's night to shine again on national television as they hosted one of the hottest teams in the country, Saint Louis. The Atlantic 10 conference leader and up swinging Billikens came to Indianapolis with the mindset of making a statement. That's exactly what happened as Saint Louis outlasted #15 Butler, 65-61.
Hinkle Fieldhouse's capacity-plus crowd (10,000) was rocking from the get-go and why shouldn't it have been with this highly touted rematch from a month ago, with SLU dominating their previous meeting, 75-58 in Saint Louis.
The Billikens had taken a 9-7 edge, but Rotnei Clarke got the home crowd fired up with a three-pointer for a 10-9 lead. For the next few minutes, Butler opened up and went on a 10-0 run. Clarke started the run and it was finished with seven consecutive by Kellen Dunham for a 17-9 Bulldog advantage.
Jordair Jett and Dwayne Evans helped Saint Louis chip away at Butler's lead. With the tight Billiken defense, the Dawgs were able to fend off the visitors for the rest of the first half and took a 34-29 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Two quick turnovers by Rotnei Clarke and poof, Butler's lead had vanished. Kwamain Mitchell made two consecutive layups to give Saint Louis a 37-36 lead that they wouldn't give up for the rest of the night.
SLU wouldn't only distance itself from Butler just nine points (53-44) with 10:57 left, plenty of time for anything to happen.
Butler had many opportunities either tie or take the lead late in the contest.
Clarke knocked down a three with 8:54 left to close the gap a little at 53-49. Andrew Smith cut the Billiken lead to 55-51 with a pass from Kameron Woods. At that time, the Butler faithful were on its feet. After Mike McCall went 1-of-2 from the free throw line, Woods stepped just inside the three-point arc to nail a jumper from 18-feet out to make it a one possession game at 56-53. Roosevelt Jones made one out of two free throws to again cut it to 56-54, Saint Louis still in front.
Dwayne Evans sank one from the charity stripe for a 57-54 edge. Jones was fouled as he made a layup, but failed to convert the old-fashioned three-point play, but BU was down just 57-56 with 5:26 on the clock.
A couple minutes later, Jones made two pressured free throws and Butler was still down 59-58.
Following a :30 timeout called by Butler, Roosevelt Jones got away with what could have argueably been a five second call during the inbound pass. Nonetheless, he got the inbound pass to Woods. Missing two from the foul line, Woods had the opportunity to tie the game and give Butler the lead. Instead, back on the other end, Jones committed his 4th personal foul, which resulted in Kwamain Mitchell swishing two free throws for a 61-58 SLU lead.
Three turnovers by Rotnei Clarke in the last couple minutes didn't help matters. The latter was with 0:13 left and Clarke lost control of the ball, but that was after Mike McCall had iced the win for the Billikens with a pair of free throws, pulling off a huge road win at #15 Butler, 65-61.
If you look at the final box score, the shooting numbers make it look like Butler won this game. Going inside the numbers really tells you that Saint Louis controlled the 2nd half to win this ball game.
SLU dominated the points in the paint 38-18, had a 19-6 advantage in points off turnovers and most importantly, forced Butler into 14 turnovers, compared to only 4 in 40 minutes by the Billikens.
Saint Louis (21-5, 10-2 A-10) were led in scoring by Mike McCall with a game-high 18 points on 5-10 from the floor. Dwayne Evans was 7-for-13 for his 17 points and Kwamain Mitchell chipped in with 12 points on five field goals.
The #15 Butler Bulldogs (22-6, 9-4 A-10) were paced by freshman Kellen Dunham with 14 points, but those were all in the first half. Rotnei Clarke and Roosevelt Jones each netted 13 points. BU shot just 58% (15-26) from the free throw line, but out-rebounded the Billikens 39-29, but it was an uphill battle in the second half, only converting 9-of-25 field goals.
The win puts Saint Louis all alone atop the Atlantic 10 conference with a 10-2 record, while VCU is 9-3 and Butler in third now at 9-4.
The Bulldogs get a week off before heading east to meet up with VCU (21-6, 9-3 A-10) on Saturday, March 2 for a noon tipoff on ESPN and can be heard on the radio with an 11:30 pre-game show with Brandon Gaudin and Nick Gardner on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis.