NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Vanderbilt Commodores had their hands full enough playing their first ranked opponent this season.
It sure didn't help that their leading scorer dislocated his shoulder in practice earlier this week.
Coach Kevin Stallings wasn't even sure if Kedren Johnson would play Saturday night against No. 18 Butler. The sophomore guard played but was limited to nine points in the 68-49 loss.
"It is really kind of amazing that he was even out there," Stallings said of Johnson. "He subluxed his shoulder the night we came back from practice, on the night of the 26th. We were 50-50 as to whether we would even have him for the game."
Johnson came in leading Vanderbilt with 17.8 points per game. He said his right shooting shoulder popped out for a second and went back in on its own.
"It has been pretty sore all week," Johnson said. "For periods of time if I don't move it, it tightens up on me. But my (right, shooting) shoulder didn't really bother me too much tonight."
Kyle Fuller led Vanderbilt (5-6) with 10 points, and Johnson didn't score his first points until 17:15 left. That came during a 14-3 run by Butler to open the second half to put away the victory after leading only 25-22 at halftime.
Rotnei Clarke led Butler with six 3-pointers and 22 points. The Bulldogs (10-2) missed their first seven 3-pointers, and Clarke missed his first six shots.
But he had another memorable game in Memorial Gym where 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.