Temple did everything it could think of to stop Rotnei Clarke on Saturday.
When the Owls tried to defend Clarke with size, he shot right over the top. When they ran extra defenders at him, he put the ball on the floor and went to basket. And when they tried to slide helpers out in front, Clarke just stopped and found teammates in scoring position.
It looked easy. Clarke, playing for the first time since severely spraining his neck two weeks earlier, finished with 24 points, went 13 of 14 from the free-throw line and had a career-high nine assists as No. 9 Butler pulled away from Temple 83-71.
"I thought we did a better job on Clarke (in the second half), he's so hard to guard,'' Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. "Then he has nine assists.''
For the Owls (13-6, 2-3 Atlantic 10), it was a daylong lesson in frustration.
At times, players such as Scootie Randall, could be seen clapping their hands in anger as Clarke shot over their outstretched fingers. At other times, they looked on in disbelief.
Either way, it was the same.
Khalif Wyatt scored 22 points and had six assists, Randall finished with 13 points and four rebounds and Anthony Lee had 12 points and seven rebounds.
But the defense wilted, allowing the resurgent Bulldogs to shoot 52 percent from the field.
"They're solid, they do what they do,'' Wyatt said after being asked to compare Butler to the other three Top 10 teams they've played this season -- Duke, Syracuse and Kansas. "They're as good as any of the teams you just named.''
Clarke hadn't played since a scary head-first crash into a padded basket support against Dayton on Jan. 12. He was taken off the court on a stretcher and wasn't cleared for a full practice until Thursday.
He looked like he hadn't missed a minute.
Clarke continually found ways to free himself up for 3-pointers and drove relentlessly through the lane, crashing hard to the floor once in each half. Each time, he bounced right up.
It was a far cry from how the Bulldogs (16-3, 4-1) played in Wednesday's loss at La Salle, their only defeat since Nov. 21. Butler has won 14 of 15, including three wins that came with Clarke on the bench.
Clearly, Butler couldn't wait to get him back.
"With his ability to shoot and create shots, and when two guys run at him that opens things up for the rest of us,'' Khyle Marshall said after finishing with 19 points and five rebounds. "The attention he gets makes it easier for our other guys.''
There was no doubt Saturday.
Marshall took advantage of his openings with a nice blend of dunks and mid-range jumpers.
Freshman guard Kellen Dunham, who returned to the bench Saturday after replacing Clarke in the starting lineup for the previous three games, still managed to make 5 of 6 from 3-point range and finished with 17 points.
Forward Roosevelt Jones, who made the winning shot last week against then No. 8 Gonzaga, finished with nine points, three rebounds and three assists, and the Bulldogs wound up shooting 52 percent from the field overall.
The combination was just too much for Temple.
"When a kid like Dunham comes off the bench and does what he did today, that's difficult to defend,'' Dunphy said. "Then you've got Clarke on the other side, that's tough to tag and then when a kid like Marshall hits some shots from outside... They've got a lot of weapons, no doubt. I like their team.''
Dunphy was just hoping for better results in Temple's first ever trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse and in a week that Philly basketball was the toast of the nation.
In addition to La Salle's court-storming win Wednesday, Villanova beat Louisville and Syracuse this week. But Temple failed in its quest Saturday, dropping to 1-3 against the Top 10 this season, largely because of Clarke, who sat out last season after transferring from Arkansas.
Despite losing starting guard T.J. DiLeo with a high ankle sprain in the first three minutes, Temple managed to control the first part of the game.
The Bulldogs swung things in their favor with a 12-0 first-half run that allowed them to take a 37-34 led into the locker room that they extended by scoring the first seven points of the second half.
Temple charged back after trailing 51-38, using an 18-5 spurt to tie the score at 56 on Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson's three-point play.
But that's when the Bulldogs cranked it up.
Marshall broke the tie with a dunk with an assist from Clarke and Dunham hit back-to-back 3s, both with assists from Clarke. Jones turned a nifty pass from Andrew Smith into a layup, Smith followed that flurry with two free throws and then Jones scored on another layup, courtesy of yet another pass from Clarke. When the 16-4 spurt ended, the Bulldogs led 72-60, leaving Temple in the dust.
"We're better in transition time when Rotnei's in the game because of the way he passes and because he's a threat to shoot when he crossed midcourt,'' Brad Stevens said. "It was heart-warming to have him back on the court, knowing what he went through and how hard it was for him.''
Temple did everything it could think of to stop Rotnei Clarke on Saturday.
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