INDIANAPOLIS — Rotnei Clarke returned in the nick of time for No. 9 Butler.
The sharp-shooting guard scored 25 points in his first game back in two weeks, and Khyle Marshall added 19, leading the Bulldogs past Temple 83-71 Saturday. Butler has won 14 of its last 15, the only blemish being Wednesday’s 54-53 loss at La Salle.
Clarke had missed the previous three games with a severely sprained neck, the result of a head-first collision with a padded basket support at Dayton on Jan. 12. And though the Bulldogs went 2-1 in his absence, they needed every point Clarke could must Saturday — and every opening he could create for his teammates, too.
Temple (13-6, 2-3) was led by Khalif Wyatt, who scored 16 of his 22 points in the first half, and Scootie Randall who had 13 points as another Philadelphia team was looking to upset a Top 10 foe.
In addition to the La Salle win, Villanova took down Louisville and Syracuse this week.
But the Owls couldn’t join the party, falling to 1-3 this season against the Top 10.
Clarke was the biggest reason for Temple’s failures Saturday, and it wasn’t just because of his scoring. He made three 3-pointers and was 13-of-14 from the free-throw line.
While Clarke continually confounded Temple’s defense by taking and making contested shots and the Owls adjusted, Clarke was content to let his teammates do their part. Marshall took care of the dirty work inside, and with Temple paying so much attention to Clarke outside, freshman Kellen Dunham knocked down five 3s and finished with 17 points. And Clarke had a career-high nine assists.
The combination was too much for Temple, which played all but three minutes without starting guard T.J. DiLeo because of what appeared to be a right ankle injury.
Temple controlled the first nine minutes of the game, then it was all Butler.
The Bulldogs used a 12-0 first-half run to take a 34-26 lead. The Owls cut that deficit to 37-34 at the half.
But Butler opened the second half on a 7-0 run and led by as much as 51-38 with 13 minutes, 50 seconds left in the game.
Again, Temple charged back, using an 18-5 spurt to tie the score at 56.
when Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson completed a three-point play.
The Bulldogs answered again with a dunk from Marshall and a 3 from Dunham, then went on a decisive 8-0 run to make it 72-60 with 3:32 to go.
Temple couldn’t get closer than seven the rest of the way.