Butler is making its first trip ever to Vanderbilt, but it's not the first time there for leading scorer Rotnei Clarke.
The Arkansas transfer turned in the second-highest scoring effort of his career the last time he was in Memorial Gym, where he will return Saturday night trying to help the No. 18 Bulldogs record a seventh straight win.
Clarke sat out last season after coming over from the Razorbacks. One highlight from his final season with Arkansas came Jan. 29, 2011, when he scored 36 points on 12-of-16 shooting in an 89-78 victory that ended an 11-game home win streak for the Commodores.
That Vanderbilt team featured three NBA draft picks in John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor. Those players are among the top six scorers from last season's team who are all gone, leaving the Commodores (5-5) with no seniors in 2012-13.
Coach Kevin Stallings is trying to stay positive despite having virtually no experienced players.
"I really enjoy this team, I really enjoy my team," Stallings said. "They try hard every day, they try to do what we say every day, every day. And I don't have to pull energy, I don't have to pull effort, I don't have to pull attitude, I don't have to pull anything."
The experience of Clarke, averaging 17.7 points, has boosted a Butler team that was ninth-worst in the country in 3-point shooting last season at 28.1 percent. While Clarke is shooting 45.4 percent from long range and among the national leaders with 44 3-pointers, freshman Kellen Dunham is second on the Bulldogs (9-2) with 15.
The improved perimeter play has opened things up inside for senior center Andrew Smith, averaging 15.3 points on 72.3 percent shooting during this six-game win streak.
"Last year was a lot different because we didn't really have shooters like Kellen and Rotnei to space out the floor," Smith said. "Our whole game this year is a little bit different."
The Bulldogs are 8-0 when Smith scores in double figures.
This will be the fourth straight Saturday that Butler has played with no games in between. The Bulldogs got a break for the holidays after last week's 75-67 victory over Evansville behind 20 points apiece from Clarke and Smith.
"I'm proud with how we've managed these first 11 games, there's no doubt," coach Brad Stevens said. "To be 9-2 after these first 11 is good."
Vanderbilt fell 56-52 to Middle Tennessee State last Friday in its most recent contest. The Commodores led 49-40 with 9:58 left before going scoreless for nearly the next six minutes.
"I think the story of the game really it came down to their experience and our inexperience," Stallings said. "We had the lead, we had control of the game."
Kedren Johnson was the only Commodore to reach double digits with 25 points - nearly as many as the rest of his team. Johnson is third in the SEC with 17.8 points per game.
Offense has been a season-long problem for Vanderbilt, tied with Mississippi State for the conference's second-lowest scoring average at 60.3.
Butler has won all three previous meetings at home. The last one finished 39-14 in the 1929-30 season.
The Associated Press News Service
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