Butler wasn’t content with only winning the best game of the young season. The Bulldogs had more on their agenda, like notching a signature win on their resume, exposing a top-10 team and advancing to the title game in Maui. Check, check, check.
Butler staved off a fierce North Carolina rally—a late surge that was equal parts meltdown and comeback—and knocked off the No. 9 team in the country, 82-71, in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational. In so doing, the Bulldogs showed unforeseen toughness, which had been a point of emphasis for Brad Stevens’ team entering the tournament. They also divulged why North Carolina’s top-ten ranking clearly has all to do with the name adorning the front of the jersey and almost nothing to do with the caliber of the team that wears it.
Twitter-compatible recap: Butler played like Bulldogs, NC like Chihuahuas. Heels vets disappear. McAdoo plays soft, immature. NC makes final push, too little too late.
Player of the game: Kellen Dunham. The fabulous freshman was as good as advertised in Butler’s biggest tilt of the non-conference. The leading scorer in the state of Indiana as a high school senior, Dunham showed why against the Tar Heels. He notched 17 points and drained five 3-pointers, teaming up with backcourt mate Rotnei Clarke to punish North Carolina from behind the arc. Dunham had trouble handling Carolina’s late-game ball pressure (who on Butler didn’t?), but the rookie made up for it with timely buckets, especially in the second half, to ice the game.
Unsung Hero: Chase Stigall. His stat line won’t jump out at you, but Stigall did all the little things to key the Bulldogs win. A true Butler-type player, the senior guard played sound defense and made all the hustle plays, helping extend possessions so that guys like Dunham and Clarke could get a second crack. Stigall is the best passer on Butler, as he showed tonight with a handful of pretty passes that either directly or indirectly set up an open shot. The veteran sixth man was huge down the stretch for Butler, helping fend off a late Carolina charge. Stigall hit back-to-back 3s midway through the second half, when UNC had whittled a 29-point deficit down to 17. He also buried three clutch free throws in the game’s final minute to hold off a second, belated North Carolina comeback attempt.
Goat of the game: Who to choose? Reggie Bullock? James Michael-McAdoo? Roy Williams? Let’s go with McAdoo. The ballyhooed sophomore was a mess offensively, pushed around by the lighter Andrew Smith and smaller Roosevelt Jones. McAdoo’s presence was most felt tonight with his sloppy play, not scoring. He turned the ball over seven times—which is absurd for an inside player—and was beat up on the glass. Bullock was awful too, as was Roy Williams’ blank scouting report, but the game opened up in the first half during a stretch when Butler annihilated JMM on the boards.