Butler senior Rotnei Clarke only got to play one season at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but he made the most of it. Clarke scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half of his final home game to lead Butler to a 67-62 win over Xavier.
"Making the decision to come here was the best decision I could have made basketball wise," said Clarke, who transferred from Arkansas after a coaching change. "Not only that, but the people I've been around for the two years that I've been here, from the teammates and coaching staff and the people I've met here while I've been on campus…it's just been really special. It was fun to end it on a win like this."
All four Butler seniors started in their final game at Hinkle Fieldhouse in front of a record fifth sellout (10,000) crowd this season. Clarke, Emerson Kampen, Chase Stigall and Andrew Smith each touched the ball on Butler's opening possession before Smith scored on a post move layup for the first bucket of the game. Smith scored again on the last possession of the first half to give the Bulldogs a 26-25 lead at the half.
Butler (24-7, 11-5 Atlantic 10) built a 10 point lead midway through the second half before Xavier (17-13, 9-7 Atlantic 10) stormed back to take the lead with a 17-3 run. Freshman Semaj Christon scored 20 points to lead the Musketeers.
Clarke drove for a layup to put Butler back in front 56-54 with just over four minutes to go. Cameron Woods hit a baseline jumper to give the Bulldogs the lead again at 60-58 with 1:36 left. Butler never trailed after that. The Bulldogs also sank nine consecutive free throws in crunch time.
"Both teams played really well," said Butler coach Brad Stevens, who is 83-13 at Hinkle Fieldhouse. "Both teams played really hard. We were just lucky enough to make the plays in the last two minutes to win the game."
Butler and Xavier share a long, close relationship. They were conference rivals years ago in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. Early this season on November 13, they played a non-conference game which Xavier won 62-47. Saturday was an Atlantic 10 conference game. It appears both schools are moving to the new Big East conference next season.
Butler head to Brooklyn, New York, next week to play in its first – and probably last – Atlantic 10 tourney. Then the Bulldogs return to the NCAA tourney.
"I need to step up in that leadership role," said Smith, who has played in two national championship games. "We understand that we have a great team. We have the opportunity to play as long as we want to, as long as we stay together and play hard. That's just something we need to remember, and hopefully we'll do."
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