New conference, same Butler.
Rotnei Clarke — a former Verdigris High School All-State guard — scored 28 points and Andrew Smith had 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead the No. 14 Bulldogs to a 72-66 win over Saint Joseph's on Wednesday night.
The Bulldogs (13-2, 1-0 Atlantic 10) are no longer bullying their way over teams in the Horizon League. Butler made its A-10 debut one to remember, holding Saint Joseph's without a field goal for a 9-minute stretch in the second half to rally for the win.
Butler, losers of consecutive NCAA championship games in 2010 and 2011, proved it's going to be a threat to win another conference title, no matter the name of the league.
"New kids on the block," coach Brad Stevens said. "It probably doesn't help that we're ranked, whatever that means. But it does add to the environment you play in."
Clarke responded to a loud and upset-minded crowd on Hawk Hill with six 3-pointers to help the Bulldogs win their 10th straight game. Clarke's 3 were about automatic. So were the boos that erupted each time he touched the ball.
Butler was hardly basketball's darling in Philadelphia - just the way Clarke liked it.
"That's what you work for, being able to go on the road and play in tough venues with hostile crowds and being able to hit shots that quiet crowds," he said. "I think that's one of the fun things about playing on the road."
Chris Wilson scored 15 points, and Ronald Roberts Jr. had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Hawks (8-5, 0-1).
Langston Galloway airballed a 3-pointer, then missed a second attempt on the same possession in the final minute to end Saint Joseph's chances. Halil Kanacevic also missed a pair of 3-point attempts with the Hawks down four.
"I would love to have them back," Galloway said. "I was wide open, but came up short."
Clarke, who once scored 51 points in a game while at Arkansas, punished Saint Joseph's from beyond the arc for 39 minutes. He made his six 3s on 10 attempts. When the Bulldogs were off the mark, no worries. Smith was there to grab the big boards and score the inside buckets (8 of 15 from the floor).
Clarke's 3 for a 57-56 lead gave the Bulldogs never relinquished. Each time the Hawks inched closer, Clarke just pushed them back - from deep. Galloway's 3 made it a two-point game. But Clarke, one of the top 3-point shooters in the conference, came right back down and hit one.
He silenced a Hawk Hill crowed that came believing it would see an upset and end the game bellowing their famed chant, "The Hawk Will Never Die!" in victory. Instead, the Bulldogs made the mad dash off the court in celebration.
"I definitely think coaching is what sets them on another level," Wilson said. "Their guys are extremely disciplined. They run their stuff extremely hard and they play together, the whole game. That was the main thing I noticed, just how together and how well-coached they were."
There was a buzz building on Hawk Hill over an experienced and talented team that was the preseason favorite to win a revamped Atlantic 10 and had their sights set on returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.
The Hawks knocked off then-No. 20 Notre Dame in overtime in November and lost to then-No. 11 Creighton in December.
Against their third ranked team of the season, with a packed house roaring from the opening tip, the Hawks came out flying. Wilson hit four 3-pointers in the first 5 minutes and Galloway made one for the fast 15-9 lead.
From there, the 3-pointers kept falling.
Clarke sank three to keep Butler in the game.
The Hawks brought their B-game defensively - as in, blocks. C.J. Aiken swatted one into the second row and Roberts followed with one on Butler's next possession that led to Wilson's fifth 3 of the game off the fastbreak for a seven-point lead.
The Hawks made 8 of 13 3-pointers in the first half; Butler was 6 of 13.
"I'm most excited about the fact that we stayed the course with what we said we were going to do and nobody panicked when things didn't necessarily go our way," Stevens said. "That is a good thing going forward."
The Bulldogs never lost their poise, even as Saint Joe's kept hitting. After all, a great crowd and a rugged road game are a regular experience for one of the most tournament-tested programs over the last five years.
"I didn't think coming here was going to be any big deal for them," coach Phil Martelli said.
Saint Joseph's was hardly a unanimous pick to win the conference. Butler was picked six, but was one of six teams to earn a first-place vote. The Bulldogs beat then-No. 1 Indiana 88-86 in overtime to show they just might finish higher than sixth.
The Bulldogs and Hawks played each other only once before, on Jan. 31, 1941. Saint Joseph's won 47-43. Wednesday's game was tied 46-all 3 1/2 minutes into the second half.
New conference, same Butler.
'Twice as Nice'
When it comes to the 3A State Tournament and Oklahoma City, the Verdigris High School basketball teams are a household name.
Head coaches Randy Upshaw and Mike Buntin lead their programs back to the 'Capitol City' this week for a chance to hoist the coveted 3A state championship on Saturday night at the Big House.
Cards fly into 3A State Tournament
Verdigris junior guard Cade Upshaw lives for March Madness.
The 5-foot-10 sharp-shooter overcame a sluggish performance in a loss to Tahlequah Sequoyah to bounce back for a 20-point outing in the Cardinals’ 72-42 win over Antlers Saturday evening in the Class 3A Area Tournament at Checotah Event Center.
CLASS 4A AREA TOURNEY: Vinita eliminates Inola
Vinita used an 18-point third quarter — highlighted by the sophomore leadership of Carsyn Spurgeon — and converted 21-of-34 free throws to notch a 61-55 win over the Inola Lady Longhorns Saturday night in the Class 4A Area Tournament.
‘Soaring to State’
In the hometown of Carrie Underwood, Verdigris senior point guard Baileigh O’Dell proved to be Oklahoma’s ‘Basketball Idol’ in Class 3A Girls Basketball.
The 5-foot-8 floor general put the No. 4-ranked Lady Cardinals on her shoulders and carried Verdigris back to the the state tournament with the 53-40 win over No. 5 Tahlequah Sequoyah Friday night in the Area Championship at the Checotah Event Center.
CLASS 4A AREA TOURNEY: Stilwell advances to State
A jam-packed, vocal crowd — aided by the control of several Claremore Police officers — witnessed Stilwell’s come-from-behind 57-51 win over Harrah Saturday night in the must-win game of the Class 4A Area Tournament at the Claremore High School Gymnasium.
MLB: Furcal mounting comeback with Miami Marlins
Coming off surgery to his throwing elbow, Rafael Furcal showed the Miami Marlins he can still deliver a sales pitch.
After sitting out the 2013 season, the 36-year-old infielder met last fall with Marlins executives Mike Hill and Dan Jennings and convinced them he could be their second baseman this year.
NFL: Redskins, Cowboys released from salary cap jail
When the Washington Redskins were placed in salary cap jail by the NFL, Kedric Golston had to say goodbye to his best friend on the team.
For the past two years, the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys - otherwise rivals to the bitter end in the NFC East - have been constrained by a much-disputed ruling limiting how much money they could spend on players.
NFL: Jets release WR Santonio Holmes after 4 seasons
Tone Time is over for the New York Jets.
The Jets parted ways with wide receiver Santonio Holmes on Monday, cutting the talented but injury-plagued playmaker after four seasons.
The move, which had been expected, saves the Jets $8.25 million, which Holmes was due to make as his base salary this season. He was also scheduled to have a $10.75 million cap number, a lofty total for a one-time Super Bowl MVP who has struggled with injuries and inconsistency the last two seasons.
NFL: Seattle re-signs DE Michael Bennett
Free agent defensive end Michael Bennett is returning to Seattle after agreeing to a multi-year deal with the Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
Terms of the contract were not immediately available on Monday. Bennett was considered one of the top free agents in the NFL after a breakout season with the Seahawks where he led the team in sacks and proved a versatile option as a defensive end and defensive tackle.
High School Basketball State Tournament Brackets
The Oklahoma High School Basketball State Tournaments will get under way this week in Oklahoma City and the Tulsa-Metro Area.
Below is a listing of the Class 3A-6A State Tournament Pairings.
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