Maybe Rotnei Clarke just needed to shake the rust off.
Once he got going, though, the Butler senior settled into a familiar comfort zone at Memorial Gymnasium. Vanderbilt failed to keep up and cool off Clarke, who made six straight 3-pointers and scored 22 points, in a 68-49 loss to the 18th-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday night.
The Commodores (5-6) were always a step behind Clarke, who sprinted around two or three screens to get open. Once he got the ball, he quickly fired off a shot.
“If he makes a couple he thinks he is going to make them all,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “He becomes real hard to defend that way. The first half we drove him inside the 3-point line, which is what you have to do ... you stand a much better chance. When he gets just a glimmer he can make them from out there.”
He started off cold, missing his first six shots. But he made the next six, five of which were 3-pointers. He sunk two treys during an 11-3 run by Butler (10-2) that opened the second half. He rattled in a 3 to cap off the spurt and give the Bulldogs an insurmountable 39-25 lead less than five minutes after intermission.
This wasn’t Clarke’s first trip to Memorial. He played here twice with Arkansas. Two years ago, he made six of eight 3-pointers and scored 36 points. In three games at Memorial, he has 75 points and 16 3-pointers.
“Coming back to SEC country was kind of cool being able to play here again,” Clarke said. “It was just good to see one go down after I took a couple bad ones. I was just a lot more patient.”
Kyle Fuller led Vanderbilt with 10 points. Leading scorer Kedren Johnson had just nine points and didn’t score until three minutes into the second half. He suffered a shoulder injury on Wednesday and Stallings said it was 50-50 on whether he would play.
Even with Johnson's woes, the Commodores led by five in the first half and trailed by just three at halftime. But their defense was riddled with holes in the second half. Butler made 65 percent (13 of 20) of its shots to pull away for its seventh straight win.
“Our flaw was just on defense,” Fuller said. “We gave up way, way too many points. And we weren't playing our principles or at least trying to go as hard as we could. If we were, it wasn't enough.”