Take your choice in pinpointing culpable statistics for UNC’s first loss of the 2014-15 season.
Butler shot just 30.6 percent from the floor (22-of-72), but pulled down 29 offensive rebounds, which tied for the most against UNC in the Roy Williams era (Texas, ‘09). Wednesday also marked the first time since that Longhorn loss at Cowboys Stadium that UNC has been outrebounded by more than 15 (57-40).
Both teams committed 19 turnovers, but the offensive rebounding edge allowed the Bulldogs to take 15 more shots than UNC and negate the field goal percentage differential (both teams made 22 field goals).
In the second half alone, the Tar Heels shot 33.3 percent from the floor (9-of-27) and missed more free throws than they made (10-of-22).
“When you look at the box score, it pretty much tells the story,” junior guard Marcus Paige said following the game.
The last time these teams played was also in a tropical locale, although that Butler victory occurred on the other side of the contiguous United States in Maui. The Bulldogs’ toughness and physicality was the predominant theme in their 82-71 win two years ago. Despite a different head coach and only a few remaining players from that 2012-13 squad, the Bulldogs played with a similar fortitude on Wednesday.
UNC sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks was still in high school during that loss in Hawaii, although his coaches and veteran teammates reflected on those memories to relay to the younger players what to expect this time around: “It’s a man’s game.”
“As a big man, I feel like we could have done better being physical with them,” Hicks said. “We had so many opportunities to get rebounds, but we let them push us under the rim or something and they got it.”
Roy Williams praised Butler’s aggressiveness during his postgame press conference, much like he did at the Lahaina Civic Center two years ago.
"They outhustled us,” the 12th-year UNC head coach said. “If my math is correct, we got 26 defensive rebounds, they got 29 offensive rebounds. That means they got more of their missed shots than we did and that is being very aggressive and hustling after the ball and chasing the ball down. They did a much better job of that than we did.”
UNC led 35-32 at halftime despite giving up 11 offensive rebounds. The Tar Heels, however, limited the Bulldogs to six second-chance points and made eight of their 10 free throw attempts in the first half.
Butler emerged from halftime energized and quickly retook the lead with an 8-2 run at 40-37. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, made just two field goals in the first 12 minutes of the second half. By that time, UNC trailed by 12 points.
“We had some good shots and didn’t make them, but I thought we lost our patience offensively as well,” Williams said. “I think we rushed some shots. We didn’t seem to have the composure that we need against a very good defensive team. We haven’t been able to simulate that in practice and it showed up today.”
Paige sparked UNC’s offense in the closing minutes as the Tar Heels pulled within three points with 37 seconds to play, but the limited perimeter shooting options allowed Butler to focus its defensive attention on the All-American guard. UNC shot 25 percent from long range (4-of-16).
Free throws and perimeter scoring were known areas of concern entering this season. Rebounding was thought to be a strength given UNC’s length across the roster, although that sentiment will have to be put on hold until further evidence is available.
“With a Coach Williams team, if you look at the backboards, they usually will tell the story and we got dominated on the backboards,” Paige said. “That’s a teaching point that we’re going to take from this more than anything. If you lose by 17 on the boards and they get 29 offensive rebounds, you’re not going to have a very good chance to win.”
Williams closed his press conference by sharing with the media what he told his players in the locker room, and that was a reminder that his 2001-02 Kansas squad lost to Ball State in the opening round of the Maui Invitational before ending up in the Final Four.
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