Butler went from the highest of highs last weekend to the lowest of lows a few days ago, suffering its first loss in more than two months.
While getting back home could help the Bulldogs regroup, Rotnei Clarke's return from injury should go a long way, too.
Clarke is expected to suit up Saturday when No. 9 Butler tries to stay unbeaten at Hinkle Fieldhouse in the program's first matchup against Temple.
Averaging a team-high 16.3 points, Clarke has missed the team's last three games due to a severely sprained neck suffered while crashing into a padded basket support Jan. 12 in a 79-73 win at Dayton. The senior guard returned to practice Thursday and was cleared by doctors.
The Bulldogs defeated Richmond 62-47 in the first game Clarke missed before escaping with one of their more exciting wins in recent memory, knocking off then-No. 8 Gonzaga 64-63 last Saturday on Roosevelt Jones' buzzer-beating floater as time expired.
Butler (16-3, 3-1 Atlantic 10), though, found itself on the wrong end of a thrilling finish Wednesday at La Salle, falling 54-53 on a basket with 2.7 seconds left. Andrew Smith scored 16 points, freshman Kellen Dunham had 15 and Jones added 14 for the Bulldogs, who had won 13 straight since falling 78-61 to Illinois on Nov. 21.
"I've got to do a reasonable job of keeping this in perspective," coach Brad Stevens said. "We basically won at Dayton without Rotnei. We beat Richmond and Gonzaga without Rotnei, and we lost a one-point game at La Salle against a very good team without Rotnei. I think we have to keep that in perspective and move on."
Butler has to like its chances of doing just that at home, where it has won all nine games and only two were decided by fewer than 13 points. This is the Bulldogs' best start at home since going 15-0 in 2009-10, and that doesn't bode well for a Temple team which has dropped 17 straight road matchups against Top 25 foes.
Three of those last four defeats, however, have been decided by a combined 12 points, including a 69-62 loss to then-No. 6 Kansas on Jan. 6. The Owls (13-5, 2-2) also beat No. 3 Syracuse 83-79 in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 22.
Temple has struggled a bit of late and entered Wednesday having dropped three of five before beating three-win Pennsylvania 76-69. Senior Khalif Wyatt, second in the conference with 17.5 points per game, scored 26 to go along with a season-best six rebounds for Temple, which trailed by as many as nine early in the second half.
"We're happy we won, it's better than losing," said Wyatt, averaging 24.8 points and shooting 55.6 percent over his last four games. "We're not happy with the way we're playing right now, but we'll take the win and look to get ready for Butler. It's going to be a good test for us, and we'll be ready for it."
If Temple hopes to pull off an upset Saturday, bringing a strong defensive display could prove key. The Owls are 9-1 when holding teams under 43.0 percent shooting but just 4-4 when they don't.
"With us, it's gonna start with defense," Wyatt said. "When we play good defense, I think we can play with any team in the country."
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved