November 20, 2012

Bulldogs Shoot Down #9 North Carolina

LAHAINA, HAWAII -- Senior Rotnei Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham combined for nine three-point field goals and 34 points to help Butler stun #9 North Carolina, 82-71, in the semifinals of the E. A. Sports Maui Invitational on Tuesday, Nov. 20.  The victory sends the Bulldogs into the title game of the eight-team tournament.

Clarke scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half, while helping Butler to a 35-18 halftime lead.  Dunham had 14 of his 17 points in the second half when the Bulldogs held off a furious comeback attempt by the Tar Heels.

Butler (3-1), behind an impressive long-range shooting performance, led by as many as 29 points midway through the second half, before the Tar Heels stormed back and cut the Bulldogs' margin to six, 77-71, with a minute remaining.  But the Bulldogs held on at the free throw line down the stretch to secure the upset victory.

"You know as a coach when you're up 30 or 29 or whatever we were that there's enough talent on that other bench to make that up real quick," said Butler coach Brad Stevens after the game.  "They cut it to 15 in about two minutes.  We have to get more sure with the ball in those moments.  That's one of those lessons early in the season that you get a chance to live through, and now you know that you have to play attacking the rest of the game.

The Bulldogs certainly came out attacking at the start of the game.  Junior Khyle Marshall scored on a conventional three-point play to open the game's scoring, and Clarke followed with the first of his four three-point field goals to give Butler an early 6-0 advantage.  That margin grew to 21-7 midway through the first half, and North Carolina didn't get closer than nine points in the final 10 minutes of the opening period.

Clarke stretched the margin to 17 points at halftime with three free throws in the final two seconds of the first half.

The start of the second half looked like a repeat of the first, with the Bulldogs continuing to dominate the scoring column.  Dunham took over for Clarke and knocked down four three-point field goals to help Butler build the lead to more than 20 points.  Junior Erik Fromm scored on a lay-up with 11:56 left in the contest to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead at 60-31.

But the Tar Heels showed how they earned their "Top 10" national ranking down the stretch.  After scoring 31 points in the first 28 minutes, North Carolina exploded for 40 points in the final 11:33!  Led by P. J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock, the Tar Heels out-scored Butler, 40-22, down the stretch.

The Bulldogs managed just one field goal in the final four minutes, but held on with six points at the free throw line.

Clarke and Dunham shared scoring honors in the game, while senior Andrew Smith added 13 points.  Marshall finished with 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.  Hairston led the Tar Heels with 15 points, while Bullock and Marcus Paige each added 13.

The Bulldogs knocked down a season-high 12 three-point field goals in the contest, including seven of nine (77.8%) in the second half.  Butler also connected on 20 of 25 attempts from the charity stripe.

The victory was Butler's first over a nationally-ranked team since March of 2011, when the Bulldogs defeated #15 Florida, 74-71 in overtime, in the regional championship game of the NCAA Tournament.