INDIANAPOLIS – They’ve helped to bring two Final Four banners to Hinkle Fieldhouse along with guiding the program through the trials of their first season in the Atlantic 10.
But when looking towards their final home game of their careers, three of the four seniors that were at Butler their entire college career remember how it starter-and against who.
“It was the crazy one,” said senior Andrew Smith of his first game against Xavier on December 19, 2009, when the Bulldogs won on a last-second lay up by Gordon Hayward as the Musketeers cried foul over a slow start to the clock. “It’s just been fun every year. Rivalries are fun.”
So it’s fitting that the team that started off the group Smith, Chase Stigall and Emerson Kampen was Xavier, who was visiting Hinkle Fieldhouse for the first time as a conference rival of the Bulldogs. Add guard Rotnei Clark into the mix as another senior and another classic appeared to be brewing between the pair.
In the end they didn’t disappoint. Not only did the two teams enjoy another closely contested game for 40 minutes but the sellout home crowd of 10,000 left seeing their Bulldogs pullout a regular season-ending 67-62 win.
“Both teams played really well, both teams played really hard,” said Butler head coach Brad Stevens. “We were just lucky enough to make the plays in the last few minutes to win the game.”
Yet that’s what it takes to win against a team like Xavier, who beat the Bulldogs 62-47 in a November match-up in Cincinnati. Both teams faced off last season at Hinkle Fieldhouse with the eighth-ranked Musketeers overpowering a young Butler squad 73-61.
But this time the Bulldogs had experience, the play of their three seniors in uniform last year and their addition in Clarke. The senior guard, who transferred to Butler for the chance to play one season, has led the Bulldogs with 16.5 points this season.
“It’s been extremely special,” said Clarke of his one season in a Bulldogs uniform. “It was the best decision that I could have possibly made.”
Adding Clarke into the mix helped to make for quite a game from start to finish between the two. Both teams stayed within a few points of each other in the first half with a Smith lay-in at the buzzer giving the Bulldogs a 26-25 lead at the break.
Clarke was able to find the range in the second half as he scored 17 points in the final 20 minutes. A three-pointer midway through the half helped the Bulldogs build as much a ten-point lead.
Xavier answered with Semaj Christon, whose 13 second half points helped the Musketeers pull ahead by as many as four. But a mix of Clarke and sophomore forward Kameron Woods (15 points) allowed the Bulldogs to pull even again.
Fitting enough, it was the seniors who helped put the Bulldogs over the top. Clarke hit all four of his free throws in the final 2:37 which was apart of the team’s 11-of-12 mark from the charity strip in the same time, sending the seniors away in style.
“We wanted to make sure we came out and played hard and played well-and that’s what we did,” said Smith. “It’s not really us at that point its all the teams its just kinda all the teams that have played Xavier in the past and you want to play well.”
The result is fitting for the four who stepped onto the court for the final time.