Rotnei Clarke picked up right where he left off.
The senior guard led the Butler men’s basketball team with 24 points in its 83-71 win against Temple.
Clarke received a roaring welcome from the sellout crowd of 10,000 at Hinkle FIeldhouse during introductions of the starting lineups.
The Owls (13-6, 2-3) were led out of the gate by senior guard Khalif Wyatt who led the team with 22 points, 16 coming in the first half.
Temple held the led over the Bulldogs (17-3, 4-1) for much of the first half because of the Owls’ 63.6 percent three-point shooting.
The Temple lead was as high as seven when Butler freshman guard Kellen Dunham hit two successive three-pointers to cut the lead to 21-20.
Clarke hit a jumper on the next possession to put Butler in front for the first time with nine minutes remaining in the half.
The Bulldogs would lose the lead briefly but pushed the advantage to as much as eight points before the Owls pulled to within three points as the half ended.
After the break, Butler’s lead grew to 13 with more than 13 minutes remaining in the game.
However, Temple fought back with threes by senior guard Scootie Randall and senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson made a free throw after being fouled on a successful layup to tie the game at 56 with 8:12 remaining.
A dunk from junior forward Khyle Marshall off a pass from Clarke brought the lead back to the Bulldogs.
Dunham followed with a couple of timely three-pointers that were able to help Butler pull away for good.
Clarke did not appear to be held back by any aftereffects of the sprained neck he suffered in the Jan. 12 game at Dayton. The senior missed three games because of the injury.
“It was great, just kind of heartwarming to have him back on the court knowing what he went through and knowing how scary it was,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
“Knowing something like that happens puts a lot of things in perspective,” Clarke said. “I just wanted to be able to get back out there with these guys and our coaches and coming away with a win was even better.”
Clarke was knocked to the floor several times over the course of Saturday’s game but he said he was not affected.
“Honestly going into the game, I wasn’t worried about it,” Clarke said. “I was just going to go out and play the same way I’ve always played. It was a crazy incident what happened, so I was just going into it with a peace of mind knowing I was going to play the same way.”
Butler’s offense operates better with Clarke on the court, Stevens said.
“We’re a better transition team, obviously with Rotnei in the game because of the way Rotnei passes the ball,” Stevens said. “But also, the threat of him shooting when crosses 27 feet or so.”
Teammates were on the receiving end of Clarke’s team-high nine assists, many of them dunks.
“It’s easy to get assists when you can throw it up there and guys just grab it and dunk it in like this guy (Marshall),” Clarke said.
Marshall scored 19 points, 14 of which were scored off of dunks.
Dunham was almost perfect from behind the arc, shooting five-of-six on three-pointers. Dunham finished the game with 17 points.
Stevens said Clarke’s absence was beneficial for the young shooter.
“I really believe that that’s probably the thing that you can say with certainty that he’s rising,” Stevens said. “He’s really playing with a great deal of confidence but he’s playing well on both ends of the floor.”
Clarke’s return was great news for the team but Stevens said he was pleased with the way the team played in his absence.
“Knock on wood we don’t have to go through that again with any of our players where they have to sit out, but if it does happen, we’ll just sub the next guy in and find a way,” Stevens said. “I was really proud of our guys. The way they played over those 150 minutes—that was big time the way they stepped up.”