Published December 29, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Butler coach Brad Stevens kept watching Rotnei Clarke as his senior guard missed his first six shots, something he really hadn't seen yet from the transfer playing just his 12th game for the Bulldogs.
Then Clarke found his stroke in hitting six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points, and the 18th-ranked Butler Bulldogs shook off a sluggish start and routed Vanderbilt 68-49 Saturday night for their seventh straight victory.
"He just settled himself down, and again I thought we got him better shots in the second half," Stevens said. "That's the biggest thing where we can get him better shots. He's going to manufacture some of his own because he's such a good player."
The Bulldogs (10-2) missed their first seven 3-pointers and led only 25-22 at halftime before taking control of the game with a 14-3 run to open the second half.
Clarke, who missed his first six shots, had another memorable game in Memorial Gym. He scored 36 points in January 2011 playing for Arkansas, hitting 6 of 8 beyond the arc in that game.
This time around, the senior guard hit 6 of 9 from 3-point range, and he said he was excited about his return to Southeastern Conference country.
"I came out a little too aggressive, shot some bad shots in the beginning," Clarke said. "Calmed down and moved the ball around well as a team in the second half and did some good things."
The Bulldogs had the game in control well enough that Stevens was able to pull his starters late. Kellen Dunham added 12 points.
Kyle Fuller led Vanderbilt (5-6) with 10 points. Kedren Johnson finished with nine, well below his average of 17.8 points and didn't score until nearly three minutes into the second half. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said Johnson hurt his right shooting shoulder Wednesday and that he wasn't sure his sophomore guard would play.
"He tried as hard as he could. I can't imagine his shoulder felt very good," Stallings said.
The Bulldogs hadn't played Vanderbilt since the 1929-30 season and picked a good time to visit with the Commodores trying to replace their top six scorers from the team that won the Southeastern Conference tournament last season. Vandy will visit Butler next season.
Butler has won all four games in this series, and this came pretty easily as the Bulldogs outshot Vanderbilt 47.1 percent (24 of 51) to 33.3 percent (17 of 51) and outrebounded the Commodores (42-27). Stevens had practiced coaching from the end line in practice this week preparing for Memorial Gym.
But this gym is confusing enough that the Bulldogs were asking Clarke for suggestions on things such as where the scorer's table is for checking in during the game.
"It's a cool place to play," Clarke said. "It kind of looks like a theater."
Clarke certainly performs well on this floor. Butler also finished 8 of 20 beyond the arc, hitting eight of its final 13 after that cold start that Stevens attributed more to impatience than the layoff. Stallings has seen enough of Clarke to know he is tough to stop once the guard starts connecting.
"When he gets just a glimmer, he can make them from out there," Stallings said.
Roosevelt Jones got Butler's second-half run going with a basket before Clarke hit another 3, and Clarke's fourth 3 of the game capped the 14-3 run with a 39-25 lead with 15:27 left.
He hit two more, and Dunham added a 3 to push the lead to 51-34 with 8:16 left. Clarke hit two free throws to push the lead to 62-39 with 4:07 left before heading to the bench for the rest of the game. Bulldogs forward Khyle Marshall said they fed off Clarke once he started hitting shots.
"We just feed off that energy right there," Marshall said. "Once he hits one, everybody's just raising their energy, then he hits another one it just keeps going up and up. Pretty much when he's hitting we have pretty much no ceiling."
Vanderbilt had its best crowd of the season at Memorial Gym with 11,990 fans, and they got to see the Commodores harass Butler into some ugly shooting in the first half.
Neither team had played in a week with the holiday break. The Bulldogs started off hitting just 2 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half and 35.5 percent overall.
Vanderbilt used an early 8-0 spurt to lead by as much as five, and the teams wound up swapping the lead six times with three ties.
Vanderbilt last led 17-16 on a pair of free throws by Shelby Moats, then Clarke finally hit his first 3-pointer with 4:54 left to put Butler ahead.
Josh Henderson tied it at 20 before Woods dunked to put Butler ahead. Clarke caught a pass and hit Butler's second 3 with 1:08 left. The Bulldogs could have led by more if not for throwing the ball away after trying to hold for the final shot of the half.