Sophomore Roosevelt Jones added 18 points - 13 in the second half - with team highs of six rebounds and four assists. Jones had a career-best day at the free throw line, making all eight of his foul shots.
"We spend a lot of time on free throw shooting. Roosevelt works harder than anybody," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "I don't think a lot about it. These guys put in the work and I'm comfortable that they're going to go in."
Clarke's 23 points came on 8-for-13 shooting and 5-for-8 from beyond the arc. Two of his treys came at at key points when the game was tight. With Butler trailing 28-25 in the first half, Clarke nailed a trey to complete a 12-3 run by Butler that tied the game. It was Clarke's four-point play in the opening moments of the second half that gave the Bulldogs a 36-32 lead with 18:41 left.
After trailing 25-16 early and 32-30 at halftime, Butler scored the first 13 points of the second half to take a 43-32 lead. Clarke and Jones combined for 11 of those 13 point to open the half. Soon, another Clarke 3-pointer put Butler ahead 51-39, but Rhode Island scored the next five points to cut the lead to 51-44 with 10:27 left.
Butler (18-4, 5-2) gained its largest lead of the night at 65-52 after two free throws by senior Andrew Smith with 5:13 left. The game appeared to be in hand for the No. 9 team in the nation, but Rhode Island made one last run to get back into the game.
Butler's last field goal came with 4:38 to play with the Dawgs holding on to 67-54 lead. URI answered with a 12-3 run that featured eight points by Ram post player Nikola Malesevic. Rhode Island continued to fight until it cut Butler's lead to 72-68, but the Rams ran out of time and Clarke and Jones finished the game at the free throw line.
The Bulldogs scored 45 points in the second half while holding the Rams to .304 shooting. Both teams did damage in the second half at the free throw line. URI shot 21-for-24 and Butler was 16-for-18. The Bulldogs shot .591 from the floor in the second half.
"The difference between the first half and the second half was we started making shots in the paint," Stevens said. "They had a lot to do with that. They're long and the challenge shots. But we started finishing at the rim better and that helped us."
Rhode Island (6-14, 1-6) was led by Nikola Malesevic's 18 points and six rebounds. Mike Powell and Xavier Munford each added 14 points.
"That's a good basketball team and a very hard out," Stevens said of URI. "They've got skilled guys, guys who can spread you out. Malesevic at the '4' is an issue because he can drive and shoot. And their guards are obviously very capable."
The nationally-televised game was in front of Butler's third capacity crowd this season. Two more games (Saint Louis and Xavier) will also be sold out.
The Bulldogs played without junior forward Erik Fromm, who was not at the game due to his father passing away on Saturday morning.
"I was proud of our guys to get away with a win on what was otherwise a pretty darn tough day for our program," Stevens said.
Bwill host St. Bonaventure Wednesday at 7 p.m.
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