The 11th-ranked Butler Bulldogs will attempt to keep pace atop the Atlantic 10 Conference standings, when they play host to the Charlotte 49ers on Wednesday evening at the Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Brad Stevens' Bulldogs have won three straight games and four of their last five overall to remain in first place in the league standings, tied with Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth with a 7-2 ledger. The Bulldogs won their 20th game of the season with last weekend's 59-56 road win at George Washington. It marked the eighth straight season that Butler has reached the 20-win plateau.
Alan Major's 49ers opened the 2012-13 season with nine straight wins, but have gone 8-6 since then. Conference play has certainly presented its challenges, especially of late, as Charlotte has lost two straight and three of its last four games. The 49ers are coming off their first home loss of the season, a 68-61 setback to VCU at Halton Arena.
This marks just the fourth meeting all-time between these two new conference foes. Charlotte holds a 2-1 series edge and won the last meeting, 81-61 in the Cable Car Classic in 1993.
Terrence Williams led the 49ers with 13 points off the bench, but it wasn't enough in the seven-point loss to the Rams. Willie Clayton added 12 points to the mix, while Pierria Henry grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds. However, Charlotte fell victim to a VCU squad that shot .519 from the floor.
On the season, Charlotte is shooting a healthy .452 from the field, but it has produced a modest 68.2 ppg. Chris Braswell is the team's top offensive threat, averaging 11.8 ppg. DeMario Mayfield (11.7 ppg) is the only other double-digit scorer, but he was suspended indefinitely at the end of January. Henry, who is the team's primary distributor (3.7 apg), adds 9.0 ppg. Guys like Clayton (8.3 ppg) and Williams (8.3 ppg) will need to continue to contribute offensively the rest of the way.
Butler's win over George Washington came at a cost, as center Andrew Smith suffered an abdominal injury and will miss the next couple of games. Rotnei Clarke led the team with a solid all-around game, posting 14 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham also finished in double figures, with 12 and 10 points, respectively. It wasn't a particularly strong offensive performance for Butler, which won despite shooting a mere .382 from the floor.
The offense hasn't been as hard to come by on the season, with the Bulldogs shooting a solid .463 from the floor, while putting up 70.9 ppg. Clarke has been outstanding in his first season with the team. The Arkansas-transfer is shooting .434 from behind the arc, leading the team in scoring at 16.9 ppg. Smith's 11.4 ppg will be missed along with his presence inside, but players like Dunham (10.5 ppg), Jones (10.4 ppg) and Khyle Marshall (10.1 ppg) should be able to make up for the loss, especially at the offensive end.