MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Joel Berry scored a game-high 26 points and Justin Jackson added 24 points as No. 1 seed North Carolina dismissed Butler, 92-80, on Friday to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.
The Bulldogs had no answer for the Tar Heels’ initial offensive onslaught. UNC made 10 of 11 field goals, including eight straight, in the opening 10 minutes to take a 30-14 lead. Jackson, Berry and Luke Maye were largely responsible for the hot streak, combining for eight of the field goals and all five 3-pointers.
"We were sensational shooting the ball in the first half," UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters in his postgame press conference.
UNC shot 54.4 percent, including a 56.5 percent effort after halftime, while holding the Bulldogs to 43.5 percent shooting. The Tar Heels assisted on 22 of their 31 field goals.
It was the first time in 19 games Jackson, the ACC Player of the Year, and Berry, a second-team All-ACCer, had both scored 20 or more points (Florida State, Jan. 14).
Maye’s Bench Boost
By the time Luke Maye’s third 3-pointer dropped through the net with 3:16 left on the first half clock, the sophomore forward had already set new career highs in points (14) and 3-pointers. His play carried even more significance given that both Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley had picked up two early fouls, making his presence a necessity.
Maye finished with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds to secure his first career double-double.
"What Luke did today, we see a lot in practice," Williams said. "And he's had one game this year where he had 15 rebounds. He's made some threes in games, but today he even got one to bounce and crawl up from under the rim and go in. That was a big lift for us."
Butler carved out a 12-6 record in Big East play by outscoring its league opponents by 14.4 points off the bench, but the Tar Heels mitigated that advantage, thanks primarily to Maye. The Bulldogs outscored UNC, 27-23, in bench points.
Preventing Butler’s Rally
Last Sunday, UNC jumped out to a 30-13 lead over Arkansas, only to let the Razorbacks close the first half on a run and eventually take the lead late in the game. The Tar Heels’ inability to close halves has been a talking point this postseason – see the ACC Tournament games against Miami and Duke – and the question emerged once again after they built a 30-14 lead against Butler.
The Bulldogs cut their deficit to 40-32 with 4:26 remaining before halftime, and it was then that UNC bounced back, reeling off 12 straight points to take a 20-point lead.
"We know it's a game of runs and Butler is a good team," Jackson said. "They're going to keep on coming at you, but for us, we tried to stay focused and stay poised, as Coach would say, and just continued to play. I felt like we did that today, and we came out with it."
Butler made another charge in the final 10 minutes, slicing a 67-47 lead to 10 with 5:59 to play. The Tar Heels answered with a 7-2 spurt to eliminate any hope of a late rally.
Roy Williams reminded his players this week of the last time these teams met at the Battle 4 Atlantis two years. Specifically, the 14th-year UNC head coach made sure they knew that Butler had grabbed 29 offensive rebounds in that loss, which remains tied for the most by an opponent in the Williams era.
UNC played up to its billing as the top rebounding team in the country on Friday, outrebounding the Bulldogs, 38-26. The Tar Heels held a 10-8 advantage on the offensive glass and equaled Butler, 15-15, in second-chance points.
Career Games Ticking By
Seniors Nate Britt and Isaiah Hicks tied former teammate Brice Johnson for second place in school history by playing in their 148th career game as Tar Heels on Friday. Deon Thompson’s ACC record of 152 games played is out of reach.
Regional Semi Success
UNC has won 13 of its last 14 games in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
UNC will play South Region No. 2 seed Kentucky at FedEx Forum on Sunday (5:05pm ET). The Tar Heels lost to the Wildcats, 103-100, in Las Vegas on Dec. 17.