When Dayton coach Archie Miller was an assistant at Arizona State, one of his recruiting targets was Rotnei Clarke, a 3-point phenom from a little hamlet in Oklahoma.
He made three trips to court Clarke but wasn’t able to charm him enough to keep him from going to Arkansas. And while Miller may have been able then to shrug off that recruiting setback, it came back to haunt him and the Flyers in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament Thursday.
Clarke eventually migrated to Butler after a coaching change, and the first-team All-Atlantic 10 pick made 6-of-12 three-pointers and scored 20 points in sending UD to a 73-67 defeat.
“He’s one of those rare guys that you can’t help but appreciate his game because you know he’s worked his butt off to get there,” Miller said. “He can beat anyone on a given night, depending on how you’re locked in defensively. If he’s hot, you’re at his mercy.”
The senior guard was hot — making them whether he was covered or not — and so were his teammates. The Bulldogs (25-7) finished 10-of-24 on 3’s, even getting a pair from 6-foot-11 Andrew Smith (18 points) and another from back-up post Erik Fromm.
“They got three big 3’s from their centers. That’s sort of the way the ball has bounced for us this season,” Miller said. “When you’re relying on percentages and numbers and you’re game-planning who’s going to beat you … I thought their 5 men did a really nice job.”
Josh Benson scored 18 points to lead the Flyers (17-14). Kevin Dillard had 15 (13 in the second half), Dyshawn Pierre 12 and Vee Sanford 11.
UD surged to a 43-39 lead on five straight points from Dillard, prompting Butler coach Brad Stevens to call a timeout with 15:08 to go.
But the Flyers gave up three consecutive 3-pointers after that, including the fourth and fifth of the game for Clark, and the Bulldogs regained control.
Trailing 53-50, UD had a numbers advantage on a fastbreak, but Sanford kept the ball and missed a floater. Smith slipped free for a layup to make it 55-50 with 8:20 to go.
The Bulldogs took a 10-point edge with 5:15 left after converting turnovers by Sanford and Dillard into fastbreak points.
UD’s five-year steak of playing in either the NCAA tournament or NIT has come to an end. Miller said opportunities could exist in one of the lower-tier postseason events, but he wasn’t sure whether the Flyers would pursue them.
“Right now we’ve got to take a deep breath with the staff. … We’ll have some discussions if we want to keep playing, but right now, we’ll kind of put it to bed.”