In Butler’s first postseason game as a member of the Atlantic 10, in what could be their only season in the conference, Rotnei Clarke continued his hot shooting streak, scoring 21 points to lead the Bulldogs over the Dayton Flyers 73-67 in first round of the conference on Thursday afternoon.
Clarke is averaging 19.7ppg over the past three games, all wins, and has been the catalyst behind the Bulldogs resurgence following a two-game losing streak which included an ugly 32-point loss at VCU. After the deflating loss, the Bulldogs regrouped and were able to start mentally preparing for the stretch run.
Clarke played an integral role in getting the team to refocus.
“I think we just got together and we communicated as a team and sat down. We discussed our roles, from the top to the bottom. Just tried to figure out what we weren’t doing and what we had to do. Obviously something’s going right here. You know, we are communicating a lot, and our chemistry off the floor leads to it on, and we have done a good job of getting together off the floor and it’s carried over.”
Not only is this a new tournament venue, but it’s also a tournament format. During their time in Horizon League, Butler was never subjected to a four games in four days atmosphere. But center Andrew Smith, who finished with 18 points and 6 rebounds, doesn’t think the new environment bothered the veteran-laden team.
“It’s a little bit unique because we have four games in four days. But other than that, we have played in arenas like this and we have played these teams before. It’s our first year in the A 10, but it’s not really anything different for us. We are just trying to approach it one game at a time.”
Head coach Brad Stevens shared a similar stoicism and confidence, the type of mental balance his team will need to make another deep postseason run.
“Well, you treat it like any other tournament we’ve ever been in. You know, the difference between this and an NCAA Tournament is you doesn’t don’t have that extra day of preparation. But this is why you play in Maui. This is why you play the year before wherever we played, just keep going in those preseason tournaments.”
The Flyers led by four with just under 14 minutes left in the second half, but Butler responded with 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions and started to pull away.
Center Josh Benson led the Flyers in scoring with 18 points, and guard Kevin Dillard chipped in with 15 points.
The Bulldogs will face No. 4-seed La Salle at 2:30 p.m. on Friday in the quarterfinals.
You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir