The Stanly News & Press
Friday, March 22, 2013 —
There aren't many Bulldogs left from the back-to-back national finalist teams of 2010 and 2011, but Thursday's 68-56 Lexington Regional second-round victory against Bucknell looked familiar.
Butler closed on an impressive 37-19 run to improve its recent three-year NCAA record to 11-2.
Coach Brad Stevens' Bulldog teams are now 12-4 all-time in the tourney. This season Butler's record is 27-8.
"This truly is a Butler team, which I feel really good about," said Stevens. "They have some mettle, some intestinal fortitude that is built up over time."
After struggling for most of the afternoon, senior Rotnei Clarke finished with 17 points, including a big 22-foot 3-pointer while falling down that gave the Bulldogs a 56-45
lead with 1:40 left.
"It was just a good feeling because it extended the lead a little," Clarke said. "We knew if we had a couple more stops, it could seal the game."
The Arkansas transfer, who was playing in his first NCAA tournament game, scored 13 of his 17 points in the final 8:40. His shot capped an 8-0 run that took the Bulldogs from six points down, 37-31, into a 39-37 lead midway through the second half.
"I just feel extremely blessed to be able to play in the tournament. That's why I made the decision to come to Butler," he said.
The sixth-seeded Bulldogs will face 3-seed Marquette, which beat Davidson with a stunning 59-58 come-from-behind victory, on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Andrew Smith — one of only two Bulldogs with significant NCAA Tournament experience — added 14 points and a career-high 16 boards. In addition, he helped slow two-time Patriot League Player of the Year Mike Muscala, whose nine points was 10 below his average.
"[Smith is] a very good post defender," Muscala said. "You know, I tried to be aggressive. I thought I had some decent looks, [but] he did a really good job of being physical with me."
Roosevelt Jones finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Alex Barlow contributed 10 points and five boards to the Bulldogs' cause.
"He was really good," Stevens said of Jones. "Rosy is an interesting offensive player because he doesn't shoot jump shots — ever — and he's great at floaters. He's obviously
able to score in the post."
Bucknell's Joe Willman, who had a game-high 20 points on 10 of 16 from the field, hit a deep 2-pointer with 10:08 left that gave the Bisons a 37-31 lead.
After that, it was all Butler.
Freshman Kellen Dunham sparked the crucial run with a pair of free throws before Smith hit a 3 out of the corner off of an inbounds play. Clarke then hit his first 3-pointer
of the contest to recapture the lead for the Bulldogs with 8:40 remaining.
"Smith hit a big 3 and that kind of settled us down," Stevens said.
Following a Ryan Frazier 3-point play that temporarily switched the advantage back to the Bison, a Smith hook shot gave Butler the lead for good at 41-40 with 7:46 left.
A Jones drive with 5:47 left gave the Bulldogs a 45-42 lead and kick-started a 10-0 run. If that run didn't put Bucknell away, Clarke's 3 one minute later certainly did.
"We've got to give a lot of credit to Butler," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. "We made our run in the second half and they came up with the big plays down the stretch. They don't get rattled. We made a great run, but they're going to come back."
Muscala had a hard time getting his game going in the first half. He scored the first bucket of the contest before missing his next nine shots.
"We were really good today [on defense]," Jones said. "Today we didn't shoot well, but luckily our defense bailed us out."
Greg Mengelt is a reporter for the News and Tribune in Jeffersonville, Ind.