For most of the offseason, no one knew what to think about the Butler Bulldogs. They had Roosevelt Jones returning, and Kellen Dunham had emerged as a pure scorer, both of which were positives. Then the news came out that Brandon Miller was taking an indefinite leave of absence, and Chris Holtmann would be thrown into the head coaching role a month before the season started. It took four games, but the Bulldogs have already notched that signature win that eluded them all last season when they upset North Carolina 74-66 in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.
The first half saw a back and forth contest in which the teams traded leads several times. Carolina took a 35-32 lead into the break on the heels of forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, whom combined for 13 points on 5-8 shooting. Butler lived by the three, and got a lot of good looks, even though they were 4-15 from long range. Butler was able to stay in the game in the first half thanks to their 11 offensive rebounds.
Offensive rebounding was the story of the entire game for the Bulldogs. Their offensive rebounding % was a staggering 52.7%. This is a measure of possible rebounds that are gathered by the offense.
The second half saw the Bulldogs come out at a frenetic pace They continued to do what they had been doing defensively, but the big difference was their shots began to fall offensively. They continued to shoot threes, and had a bit more success (5-13 instead of 4-15). They also pounded the ball inside nearly every possession, which led to North Carolina having 10 blocks in the game, but the Bulldogs stuck with the inside game. Butler's defense and containment of All-American Marcus Paige was what won them this ballgame. Paige hit a couple big threes late in the game as North Carolina tried to claw their way back in, but his overall numbers weren't pretty: 4-15 for 18 points, along with three turnovers.
In the preview for this game, I mentioned that containing Paige and seeing how Chris Holtmann could handle the pressure of coaching in a big game would be keys to procuring a victory for the Bulldogs. Both of those things proved to work out very well, and Butler will be moving on to face the winner of the UCLA/Oklahoma game.