By Rachel Cohen
The Associated Press
NEW YORK —
Butler lost twice to Saint Louis this season with a few days’ rest.
Playing their third game in three days at the Atlantic 10 tournament, the Bulldogs couldn’t hang in against the physical Billikens in Saturday’s 67-56 semifinal loss.
“The third game in three days against a team that physical that’s going to steer you and be on you and ride you and bump your cuts — you’ve got to have some stuff to you to do that for 40 minutes when you’re fresh,” coach Brad Stevens said. “You kind of saw the last 10 minutes they got better, and we didn’t play as well.”
Butler was up 24-17 with more than 5½ minutes left in the first half, then shot 11-for-37 from the field the rest of the way. The Bulldogs (26-8) struggled with foul trouble in the second half as Saint Louis pulled away at the free-throw line.
Leading scorer Rotnei Clarke had 10 points in the first 11 minutes. He managed only six more.
“They’re really disciplined,” Clarke said. “They’re not going to jump over any cuts. They’re going to ride you and steer you the whole way.”
Roosevelt Jones is usually the undersized, bruising guy on the floor at 6-foot-4, 227 pounds, but he was overpowered Saturday by 6-5, 220-pound Dwayne Evans.
Evans had 24 points and 11 rebounds, showing off a textbook assortment of low-post moves and drawing fouls. He was 7-for-10 from the floor and 9-for-11 on free throws and pulled down 11 rebounds.
“He’s probably the most physical player that I ever played against in my life,” Jones said. “I really thought he should have been player of the year in the conference.”
Butler center Andrew Smith was in foul trouble most of the game and finished with eight points and two rebounds.
The fifth-seeded Bulldogs would have needed to win four games in four days for a title in their first — and perhaps last — season in the A-10. Stevens didn’t want to talk about reports the Bulldogs are headed to join the Big East’s breakaway basketball schools.
But he was proud of what Butler has accomplished so far this season.
Its nonconference schedule included games against Indiana, Gonzaga, Marquette, North Carolina and Illinois.
The Bulldogs then had A-10 road games against Saint Louis, La Salle and VCU.
They finished tied for third in the deep conference but didn’t earn a bye because of tiebreakers.
“It was a remarkable run for our team,” Stevens said. “It’s one of the best pre-NCAA tournament groups as far as what they achieved that we’ve ever had.”
The Billikens forced 20 turnovers and turned them into 26 points. They held Butler without a field goal for almost seven minutes midway through the second half to pull away.
Up 42-41 with under 12½ minutes remaining, the Billikens slowly extended the lead against the cold-shooting Bulldogs. The run started innocuously enough, when Mike McCall drove the lane and drew a foul.
After a delay, the officials awarded him the basket on a goal-tending call, and he completed the three-point play.
Saint Louis then went to work at the foul line as Butler was scoreless for more than five minutes. The Billikens attempted 31 free throws, making 20.
“To beat any team three times in one season is an accomplishment. To beat a team like that with the accolades and the guys that they have on their team is really a confidence builder,” Evans said.