By ALAN FERGUSON
(AP) -- Butler couldn't overcome starting center Andrew Smith's absence last time out but there's a chance he could return sooner than expected.
Even if Smith isn't back on the court, the 11th-ranked Bulldogs might still have enough to get past one of the Atlantic 10's lowliest teams, Fordham, on Saturday.
Smith was scheduled to miss at least two games after suffering an abdominal injury in a 59-56 victory at George Washington last Saturday. However, he was cleared to practice Friday, two days after Butler's 71-67 home loss to Charlotte.
"Andrew has progressed more quickly than expected," coach Brad Stevens said. "Whether or not he'll play at Fordham will be a game day decision."
The 6-foot-11 Smith, who has started 92 of 100 games since the start of his sophomore season, is Butler's second-leading scorer (11.4 per game) and rebounder (5.4 per contest). What the Bulldogs have probably missed lately, though, is his 54.3 percent shooting, also good for second on the team.
Butler (20-5, 7-3) has been held under 40.0 percent shooting in each of its last two games but nearly rallied from a late 10-point deficit Wednesday. The Bulldogs cut the 49ers' lead to one point with nine seconds left but didn't get the chance at a potential game-winning shot after committing a turnover.
"I think the right team won," Stevens said. "It probably would have been a disservice if Butler would have won.
"One thing that I told our guys in the locker room is that you can't let this one affect your play on Saturday."
Rotnei Clarke had a team-best 18 points but missed nine of 14 shots, only one of which was taken inside the 3-point arc. The Bulldogs' leading scorer (17.0 ppg) was 5 of 16 and 2 of 7 from 3-point range while scoring 14 against George Washington.
He'll try to get back on track during his team's upcoming games against two of the worst teams in the conference, Fordham (6-19, 2-8) and Duquesne.
Butler will try to use that stretch to close its one-game gap on conference leader Virginia Commonwealth. The Bulldogs are in a three-way tie for third with Saint Louis one-half game ahead of that pack.
Fordham is on the verge of its first six-game losing streak of the season after falling 79-66 at Xavier on Wednesday. Freshman guard Mandell Thomas had a career-high 23 points and leading scorer Branden Frazier (15.0 ppg) was the only other Ram in double figures with 11.
Thomas is averaging 17.3 points over his last six games after averaging 6.0 through his first 18 collegiate contests.
He'll next try to lead the Rams to their second victory over a ranked opponent in three attempts. They haven't faced a Top 25 team so far this season.
A 60-54 home win over then-No. 22 Harvard on Jan. 3, 2012, snapped a 21-game losing streak to ranked opponents.
Fordham lost 94-80 in its only previous matchup with Butler, a first-round game in the 1959 NIT.
Updated February 15, 2013