DAYTON, Ohio — Leading scorer Rotnei Clarke fell headfirst into the backboard support, then rolled on his back and lay there dazed. He didn't even try to get up.
How bad was it? Wide-eyed Butler teammates gathered around and wondered.
“At that point, it's not about basketball anymore,” senior center Andrew Smith said.
Turns out that it wasn't as bad as initially feared — only a sprained neck — but it's still a significant setback for No. 14 Butler. The Bulldogs pulled through without their leading scorer on Saturday, using their depth to beat Dayton 79-73 for their 11th straight win. Roosevelt Jones scored 16 points, helping Butler (14-2, 2-0 Atlantic 10) extend its best start in four years.
They came away feeling fortunate that Clarke, a former Verdigris standout and the leading scorer in Oklahoma high school basketball history, didn't get hurt worse. He hit the bottom part of the padded backboard support after he was fouled while trying for a fast-break layup at 8:13 of the first half, his head and left shoulder taking the brunt of the collision.
At first, he lost sensation in his arms and legs.
“He said he couldn't feel anything,” Jones said.
He was able to move his arms and legs while trainer Ryan Galloy checked him out on the court. A padded back brace was brought out, and Clarke was taken off the court on a stretcher, giving the thumbs-up sign. He was taken to a nearby hospital for precautionary tests that were negative.
Clarke was later released from the hospital and returned to Indianapolis with his teammates, the Bulldogs said in a statement. Galloy said Clarke would have an MRI later Saturday, and after learning the results, the Bulldogs would have a better idea of when Clarke might return to the court.
“I feel blessed to be walking,” Clarke said. “When I hit my head, I rolled over and I couldn't feel anything from my neck down. That's what scared me the most. My body was just tingling. By the time Ryan got out there, I started getting some feeling in my hands, and after awhile, I was fine in my legs. I'm still sore in my shoulders, and I've got a bad headache.”
It's unclear how long the Bulldogs will miss Clarke, who averages 17 points per game.
The Bulldogs' defense and depth pulled them through against Dayton (10-6, 0-2), which has lost four of its last six and fell to 7-3 on its home court. Dyshawn Pierre and Vee Sanford scored 14 apiece for the Flyers.
Coach Brad Stevens went to the hospital as soon as the game ended to see Clarke. Derenbecker shook his hand on the court and asked him to relay a message.
“I said ‘Coach, please tell Rotnei it was not on purpose.' And he said, ‘Matt, I know it wasn't on purpose. Don't worry,' ” Derenbecker said. “It felt good to know that a coach of his caliber was able to realize that it wasn't a dirty play.”
When Clarke was taken off the court, Stevens called his players together and told them it didn't appear to be a serious injury.
“He said, ‘Rotnei's going to be all right, we need to just step up and keep playing,“' Smith said. “We played this game for Rotnei.
“We were all relieved to hear Rotnei is all right. It's just bad whiplash. He's going to be out for a while. We'll pick him up.”