ACC At The Tourney: Complete Tar Heels cruise to spot in Elite Eight
North Carolina is clearly on a mission. With Kris Jenkins -- who hit the game-winning shot last year for Villanova against these Tar Heels -- sitting courtside in Memphis, the South's No. 1 seed left little doubt of that as it hammered fourth-seeded Butler 92-80 Friday.
With a nod to the absurdity of Luke Maye's night, which aided a rejuvenation beyond the arc, thees are the moments and performances that defined the Tar Heels' win.
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Biggest Statement: Tar Heels have look of champion
A scare against Arkansas in the Round of 32 came with it two major concerns. First was the health of point guard Joel Berry II, who was hobbled by an ankle injury, and as a byproduct were North Carolina's struggles from distance (Berry is the team's top 3-point shooter at 40 percent).
He was just 2 of 8 on 3s vs. the Razorbacks -- after going 1 of 6 in the first round vs. Texas Southern in the opening round -- as the Tar Heels shot a collective 5 of 17. But Berry claimed he was "close to 100 percent" ahead of the matchup with the Bulldogs and he and North Carolina came out firing from deep.
They hit 8 of 16 in the first half in seizing a 16-point lead and connected on 9 of 24 in all. Berry hit 3 of 7, while All-American Justin Jackson added four on six attempts and Maye hit three of five (more on him later).
The nation's best rebounding team outgained Butler 38-26 in that department and the size advantage led to a 24-10 edge, but North Carolina also held the Bulldogs to 43.5 percent shooting, including 28.6 on 3s.
For a Tar Heels team that came up short to Duke in the ACC Championship Game and wasn't overly impressive in its only previous test in this tourney, this was a complete game confidence-builder that included the most first-half points every allowed by Butler in a tourney game with 52.
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Big Man On Campus: Luke Maye
Berry had a game-high 26 points, but it was Maye that supplied a truly surprising performance to set the tone.
Not only did he set a career-high with 16 points -- fueled by those three 3-pointers -- but the sophomore also pulled down 12 rebounds (nine defensive) for his first double-double as a Tar Heel.
The last North Carolina player to get that kind of a breakthrough in a NCAA tournament game was Julius Peppers, the current Carolina Panthers defensive end, in 2001.
Maye hit his first 3-pointer to put the Tar Heels up 25-12, then in the next minute grabbed a defensive rebound and hit another trey. It wasn't all from beyond the arc, though, as Maye scored on a pair of layups in a 19-second span late in the half.
By the break, he' already set that career-best with 14 points, punctuated by his last 3-pointer, which bounced out of the rim, went up in the air and then fell back through.
It was that kind of night for Maye, who came in with two double-digit scoring games since Christmas. His outburst also proved crucial with both Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley drawing two fouls.
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Most Concerning: Second-half lull, but Tar Heels overcome it
Leading by as many as 20 points, it looked as though things could get ugly. Butler, though, managed to cut it to 10 points with 5:50 off a pair of Kamar Baldwin free throws, and with that surge the potential that we could have seen a similar fight like the Tar Heels had against the Razorbacks.
Instead, it was back to 15 points less than minute later, and the Tar Heels had their dominant win en route to the Elite Eight.
That they responded to Butler's challenge was the bigger point, but it's a section of that game that could have proven costly had North Carolina not had a cushion fueled by a 14-0 first-half run.
Nonetheless, Roy Williams is now 8-1 in the Sweet 16 with the Tar Heels, and the blue-blood program has a date with another as it faces Kentucky on Sunday.