LAHAINA, Hawaii — As No. 9 North Carolina began to chip away at a lead that, at one time, had been as high as 29 points in the second half, UNC used scrappy defense and took advantage of Butler mistakes to claw its way back into the Maui Invitational semifinal matchup.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, that version of the North Carolina squad was noticeably absent for the first 32 minutes of Tuesday’s game, one that would eventually end in a 82-71 victory for the Bulldogs (3-1).
Scoring only 18 points in the first half, its lowest total since a 1996 game against Wake Forest, UNC (4-1) showed a severe lack of intensity in the opening minutes, and Butler used a 10-2 run to grab an early lead. UNC was outrebounded 24-12 in the first half and went into the break with just a single offensive board.
The second half wasn’t much better for the Tar Heels, who trailed Butler 60-31 with just less than 12 minutes to play. It would have been easy to count UNC out. Butler coach Brad Stevens knew better than that.
“(I was) just a little surprised,” Stevens said about his team’s major advantage. “We’ve been in that spot both ways before. You never give up … when you’re playing a program like Carolina, you know they’re coming. Their run’s coming next.”