DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Dayton’s Matt Derenbecker shook Butler coach Brad Stevens’ hand and asked him to relay a message to Rotnei Clarke when he saw him in the hospital.
“I said `Coach, please tell Rotnei it was not on purpose,'” Derenbecker said. “And he said, `Matt, I know it wasn’t on purpose. Don’t worry.’ It felt good to know that a coach of his caliber was able to realize that it wasn’t a dirty play.”
Scary, though. And No. 14 Butler was able to overcome it and keep its winning streak going.
Roosevelt Jones scored 16 points on Saturday, and the Bulldogs used their depth to pull out a 79-73 win over Dayton without their leading scorer.
Clarke fell head-first into the padding on the backboard support after Derenbecker fouled him with 8:13 left in the first half. He was taken off the court on a stretcher. Tests at a nearby hospital were negative, and Clarke came away with nothing worse than a sprained neck.
He was on the Bulldogs’ minds as Butler (14-2, 2-0 Atlantic 10) won its 11th straight game and extend its best start in four years. At first, he lost sensation in his arms and legs.
“He said he couldn’t feel anything,” Jones said.
He was able to move his arms and legs while trainer Ryan Galloy checked him out on the court. A padded back brace was brought out, and Clarke was taken off the court on a stretcher, giving the thumbs-up sign.
It’s unclear how long the Bulldogs will miss Clarke, who averages 17 points per game.
“He was emotional more than anything about having to come out of the game,” Galloy said. “He’s got no fracture. He’ll be stiff and sore for a while. It’s not like an ankle where you can tape it up.”
The Bulldogs’ defense and depth pulled them through against Dayton (10-6, 0-2), which has lost four of its last six and fell to 7-3 on its home court. Dyshawn Pierre and Vee Sanford scored 14 apiece for the Flyers.
“For whatever reason, we just did not have enough pop today,” coach Archie Miller said. “A lot of that goes to Butler because when you play them, they have that ability to really sap your spirit at times with their play on both ends.”
It was one of Butler’s grittiest wins during the streak, which includes away-from-home victories over then-No. 1 Indiana, Northwestern and Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs are off to their best start since they won 19 of their first 20 games during the 2008-09 season.
The Bulldogs put together a nine-point run around Clarke’s injury to take the lead for good.
Clarke stole the ball from Derenbecker and was going up for a layup when Derenbecker fouled him hard, sending his head and left shoulder into the padded base of the backboard support. Clarke lay on his back for several minutes while he was examined.
When Clarke was taken off the court, Stevens called his players together and told them it didn’t appear to be a serious injury.
“He said, `Rotnei’s going to be all right, we need to just step up and keep playing,'” center Andrew Smith said. “We played this game for Rotnei.
“We were all relieved to hear Rotnei is all right. It’s just bad whiplash. He’s going to be out for a while. We’ll pick him up.”
Smith had a pair of baskets during the nine-point run that made it 23-16. Minutes later, Khyle Marshall made a basket, was fouled and missed the free throw, but Butler got the rebound and Marshall scored on a layup as the Bulldogs stretched their lead to 31-20.
The Bulldogs shot 59 percent in the first half despite missing Clarke, who had five points before he got hurt.
Pierre missed an uncontested dunk to open the second half, and Butler went on a nine-point run for a 44-30 lead that was never in jeopardy. Alex Barlow had a steal and layup during the surge.
Back-to-back 3s by Sanford cut the lead to 61-56 with 6:35 to go, the closest the Flyers had been since the opening minute of the second half. Sanford scored 10 straight points for Dayton, keeping the Flyers in it.
Smith hit an uncontested 3-pointer from the right wing off a set play to blunt the comeback, and Butler scored its last 11 points off free throws. Dayton never got closer than four points.