The North Carolina Tar Heels played like the title contenders they are in their Sweet Sixteen victory against Butler. Carolina got contributions from the expected (Justin Jackson) and the somewhat-unexpected (Luke Maye) on their way to a trip to the Elite Eight. Joel Berry II shook off any concerns that his ankle might continue to hamper him as he starred for the Tar Heels.
UNC controlled nearly all of the game while Butler experienced multiple droughts from the field. With just under eight minutes to go, the game tightened a bit, enough to make any Tar Heel fan who witnessed the game against Arkansas nervous. The Heels stood tall and never let things get out of hand.
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Justin Jackson became the first Tar Heel to make over 100 three-pointers in a season with two made in the game. He was second on the team in points with 24 to go along with five assists. Joel Berry surged ahead of Jackson offensively at the end of the game to lead Carolina with 26 points. Kennedy Meeks wasn’t able to get much going offensively, but he was a huge presence on the boards with 11 rebounds. For the first time in his career, Luke Maye had a double-double with his three three-pointers and team-high 12 rebounds.
If there was one spot of frustration for the Heels, it was the free throw line. In a tighter game where it could have been the difference, UNC’s ineptness at the charity stripe could have been a real issue. Carolina went 21-33 on their free throws.
The scariest moment of the game came when Berry slipped with the ball and landed awkwardly on the court. With his ankle still healing after injuring it against Texas Southern, it was a moment worth holding your breath over. Luckily, Berry seemed to be okay. He’ll need to rest up for the quick turnaround for Sunday.
You could point to some questionable decisions by Theo Pinson and Isaiah Hicks fouling out (again) if you want to be kind of nit-picky, but the important thing is that the Heels found a way to win against a team that has had a lot of success this season. It may not have been the complete and utter blowout it looked like it might be at times, but Butler is a respectable team. It would have been more strange if they didn’t show some fight with their season on the line.
The Carolina team that showed up for long stretches tonight is the team that can absolutely play for the National Championship and win it. They were tough defensively and effective offensively. That’s a true recipe for success.