Saint Louis shuts down Butler in second half

Butler's Rotten Clarke, left, drives past Saint Louis' Butler's Rotten Clarke, left, drives past Saint Louis' Jordair Jett during the first half. (March 16, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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And, in an audition for the Big East of the Future, Saint Louis defeated Butler in an Atlantic 10 Conference semifinal at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, 67-56.

More, in a moment, on where those schools likely are headed in the rash of broken relationships between colleges and leagues. The immediate effect of Saturday's rugged, often ragged, game was that Saint Louis (27-6) will duel Virginia Commonwealth in Sunday's A-10 title game.

The game was a shark tank of defense, with Saint Louis forcing 20 Butler turnovers and committing 13 of its own amid all manner of misdirected shots and passes.

Butler (26-9) sneaked out to a modest six-point lead midway through the first half, mostly powered by the unbashful long-range shooting of senior guard Rotnei Clarke, who scored a team-high 16 points. But Saint Louis' trademark, a defense roughly as difficult to break through as concertina wire, slipped into a 27-25 halftime edge and allowed Butler to lead for only 30 seconds -- at 32-31 -- the rest of the afternoon.

As the tournament's No. 5 seed, Butler barely missed getting a first-round bye and began to feel the effects of playing a third game in three days, while No. 1 Saint Louis was in its second game. From a 39-39 tie with 12:54 to play, Butler went almost seven minutes without a field goal as Saint Louis pushed its lead to 51-43 and didn't stop there.

In particular, junior Dwayne Evans took control, contributing 12 consecutive Saint Louis points (and 14 in a 15-6 surge) down the stretch as the lead ballooned toward a high of 18 points. For Butler, which already has gotten the full Brooklyn experience when the team bus didn't start after practice and players hailed cabs back to their hotel, was thus bid farewell from what could be its only Atlantic 10 season.

"The No. 1 factor in the last 10 minutes," Butler coach Brad Stevens said, "was Saint Louis. They got better and we didn't. The second factor, and by far second, was the third games in three nights -- especially against a team like that. They are a legitimate contender for the whole thing [NCAA title]."

Evans had game highs in points (24) and rebounds (11), with sufficient help from Australian Cody Ellis (4-for-8 on three-pointers and 13 points) and Kwamain Mitchell's five assists.

"We're not a stats team," Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. "This is an amazing, fascinating game, and you're always trying to figure it out. And -- you know what? -- you never will."

What may soon be solved is the inclusion, in the not-to-distant future, of both Saint Louis and Butler in that Big East/Catholic 7 (plus others) arrangement. Butler, having spent only this one season in the A-10, and Creighton already have reportedly accepted bids to the new Big East, with Xavier up next.

Saint Louis, meanwhile, is said to be under consideration -- along with Dayton and Richmond -- to bring New Big East membership to 12 schools within three years.

Somewhere, someday, Saint Louis and Butler appear destined to meet as conference foes again.

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