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INDIANAPOLIS – Most of the Butler basketball fan base truly believes that Bulldog coach Brad Stevens is a genius. The remainder of Bulldog Nation simply is convinced that he is the Messiah.
But his hoop intellect went to a whole new level in Saturday's 64-63 win over No. 8 Gonzaga at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
With 4.5 seconds remaining and the host Bulldogs trailing 63-62, who did Stevens insert into the game to make a critical play? Emerson Kampen, of course.
“He's our inbounder,” Stevens said.
He's your inbounder? What?
“He's a fifth-year senior and throws the best baseball passes on our team,” Stevens explained.
The Bulldogs needed to go 84 feet in the final seconds and Stevens felt that the Yorktown High School alum, who hadn't played more than five minutes since early December, gave Butler the best chance of starting the game-winning play properly.
“He'll make the right decision every single time,” Stevens said. “And I trust him.”
The walk-on Kampen plays rarely (17 minutes this season) and practices less. Because of a stress fracture in his back, the 6-foot-9 forward hadn't practiced – get this – all year.
And now, with a national television audience enthralled, and the game hanging in the balance, this is the guy Stevens wants to make a monumentally-important decision?
“Just like everybody has relief pitchers,” Stevens explained, “Emerson's my inbounder.”
There were several amazing aspects regarding Butler's victory on Saturday, none more so than the fact the Bulldogs pulled it off without their best player.
Senior guard Rotnei Clarke has missed the past two games after sustaining a strained neck, and according to Stevens, Clarke will remain out for Wednesday's Atlantic 10 Conference game at LaSalle.
“From what I hear,” Stevens explained, “it's unlikely against LaSalle.”
Clarke may return on Saturday when Temple visits Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The pressure to replace Clarke may have gotten to his replacement, Kellen Dunham, in the Bulldogs' victory over Richmond last Wednesday. However, the freshman guard had no problem filling in for the injured senior on Saturday.
After missing 9 of 11 shots against the Spiders in Clarke's first game out with the injury, Dunham was smooth against Gonzaga. He connected on half of his 3-point shots (4 of 8) and finished with 14 points.
“You can't really replace Rotnei,” Dunham said. “I just tried to take on that role and play as well as I could in that role. I just tried to contribute as much as I could.”