Posted January 27, 2013 on AP on Fox
Rotnei Clarke is back and so is No. 9 Butler. After missing the last two weeks with a severely sprained neck, the fearless shooting guard returned Saturday and scored 24 points, knocked down three 3-pointers, made 13 of 14 free throws, dished out a career-high nine assists and led the Bulldogs to an 83-71 victory over Temple. Welcome back, kid. ''It felt really good. When something like that happens, it puts a lot of things in perspective,'' Clarke said. ''I felt pretty normal.'' For most of the day, he looked like his old self, too. Clarke repeatedly sent 3-pointers over the outstretched arms of defenders, confounding and frustrating them at the same time. He drove relentlessly through the lane, crashing hard to the floor once in each half. Yes, it brought back memories of that Jan. 12 play at Dayton when he crashed head first into a padded basket support head first and then stayed down for eight minutes before being taken off on a stretcher. On Saturday, Clarke, thankfully, bounced up right away both times as he continued to play his way. And when Temple (13-6, 2-3 Atlantic 10) dared to chase Clarke with extra defenders, Clarke had no trouble finding teammates who were willing and able to knock down open shots. It was a far cry from how the Bulldogs (16-3, 4-1) played in Wednesday's loss at La Salle, their only defeat since Nov. 21. Butler has won 14 of 15, including three wins that came with Clarke on the bench. Clearly, Butler couldn't wait to get him back. ''With his ability to shoot and create shots, and when two guys run at him that opens things up for the rest of us,'' Khyle Marshall said after finishing with 19 points and five rebounds. ''The attention he gets makes it easier for our other guys.'' There was no doubt Saturday. Marshall took advantage of his openings with a nice blend of dunks and mid-range jumpers. Freshman guard Kellen Dunham, who returned to the bench Saturday after replacing Clarke in the starting lineup for the previous three games, still managed to make 5 of 6 from 3-point range and finished with 17 points. Forward Roosevelt Jones, who made the winning shot last week against then No. 8 Gonzaga, finished with nine points, three rebounds and three assists, and the Bulldogs wound up shooting 52 percent from the field overall. The combination was just too much for Temple. ''When a kid like Dunham comes off the bench and does what he did today, that's difficult to defend,'' Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. ''Then you've got Clarke on the other side, that's tough to tag and then when a kid like Marshall hits some shots from outside. ... They've got a lot of weapons, no doubt. I like their team.'' Dunphy was just hoping for better results in Temple's first ever trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Owls were led by Khalif Wyatt, who scored 16 of his 22 points in the first half and had with six assists. Scootie Randall had 13 points and four rebounds, and Anthony Lee had 12 points and seven rebounds on a day that another Philadelphia team was trying to topple another top 10 foe. In addition to La Salle's court-storming win Wednesday, Villanova beat Louisville and Syracuse this week. But Temple failed in its quest Saturday, dropping to 1-3 against the top 10 this season, largely because of Clarke, who sat out last season after transferring from Arkansas. ''He never stops moving, he's quick and likes to get his team involved, too,'' Randall said. ''You try to stay on his hip, you try to stay with him, but he's just a good player.'' It didn't take the Owls long to figure things out. Despite losing starting guard T.J. DiLeo with a high ankle sprain in the first three minutes, Temple managed to control the first part of the game. The Bulldogs swung things in their favor with a 12-0 first-half run that allowed them to take a 37-34 led into the locker room that they extended by scoring the first seven points of the second half. Temple charged back after trailing 51-38, using an 18-5 spurt to tie the score at 56 on Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson's three-point play. But that's when the Bulldogs cranked it up. Marshall broke the tie with a dunk with an assist from Clarke and Dunham hit back-to-back 3s, both with assists from Clarke. Jones turned a nifty pass from Andrew Smith into a layup, Smith followed that flurry with two free throws and then Jones scored on another layup, courtesy of yet another pass from Clarke. When the 16-4 spurt ended, the Bulldogs led 72-60, leaving Temple in the dust. ''We're better in transition time when Rotnei's in the game because of the way he passes and because he's a threat to shoot when he crossed midcourt,'' Brad Stevens said. ''It was heart-warming to have him back on the court, knowing what he went through and how hard it was for him.''
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