NEW YORK — Fordham welcomed back Chris Gaston, their second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, after a seven-game absence because of a knee injury.
The only senior on the roster wasn't enough as the Rams lost 68-63 to No. 11 Butler on Saturday, despite 21 points and six rebounds from Gaston.
The Bulldogs did a good job on Gaston late, holding him scoreless for the final 5 minutes.
"I was trying to get back in rhythm," Gaston said. "I wasn't thinking about me at all. I was just trying to get a `W.' They weren't trying to double me and I tried to take advantage."
Fordham coach Tom Pecora was pleased with Gaston's return.
"He didn't look like there was any weakness at all," Pecora said. "I was pleased with his effort."
Rotnei Clarke scored 22 points for Butler (21-5, 8-3 Atlantic 10) and some key plays late in the game when Fordham (6-20, 2-9) was able to close to 65-63 with 18 seconds to play.
"Coach gives me the freedom and he wants the ball in my hands as the shot clock was going down," Clarke said. "Fortunately I got a couple of good screens. I got the ball to Andrew (Smith) and we executed."
Stevens called Clarke a "game-changer."
"He stemmed the tide and he has the ability to make shots."
The Bulldogs closed it out by making four of six free throws the rest of the way to improve to 36-10 after a loss under coach Brad Stevens. Butler lost to Charlotte 71-67 on Wednesday.
The game marked the return of Smith, Butler's starting center, who missed the home loss to Charlotte because of an abdominal injury. He had 12 points and made all six of his free throws, including four in the final 1:54.
"Obviously I wouldn't play if I didn't get full clearance," said Smith, who had no basketball activity for a week.
Stevens was glad to have him back.
"I was shocked when the trainers told me on Thursday that he could play tonight," Stevens said. "We're a better team with him, no doubt."
Mandell Thomas had 12 points, including two 3-pointers in the final minute, for the Rams. He was coming off a career-high 23 points against Xavier. Ryan Rhoomes had eight points and eight rebounds for Fordham.
Kameron Woods had seven points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
Fordham opened the second half on a 9-0 run to take a 35-30 lead, but the Bulldogs went on a 16-2 run right after that to go up 46-37 with 12:57 to play.
Butler finished 22 of 34 (64.7 percent) from the free throw line, while the Rams were 11 of 15 (73.3 percent).
This was only the second meeting between the schools. Butler beat the Rams 90-78 in the first round of the 1959 NIT.