Butler-North Carolina Preview


North Carolina is the only ranked team in the Maui Invitational field, and it didn't get much of a challenge from its first-round opponent.

Pesky Butler hopes to make the favorite's path to the championship a bit more difficult.

Coming off a dominant performance, the ninth-ranked Tar Heels face the Bulldogs in the semifinals Tuesday night.

North Carolina (4-0) led by 32 points at halftime and cruised to a 95-49 win over Mississippi State on Monday, holding an overmatched opponent that had only six scholarship players available to 28.3 percent shooting.

Leslie McDonald scored a game-high 21 points off the bench, while fellow reserve P.J. Hairston had 18 and hit 4 of 7 from 3-point range.

"I think this game was a really coming‑out game for me just getting people open and being able to take and knock these shots down," McDonald said.

The Tar Heels went 15 of 32 from behind the arc after hitting 10 3s in Friday's win at Long Beach State. It's the first time North Carolina has made double-digit 3-pointers in consecutive games since Nov. 24-25, 2008, in Maui.

"I think when we're consistent getting the basketball inside and getting good balance and inside scoring and guys shooting good 3‑point shots, I think that's when we're our best team," coach Roy Williams said. "If we can do a little better job of running the floor and getting some easy baskets in open court, think we'll be even better."

Williams, though, wasn't pleased with the fact three different players committed at least three turnovers, including four by McDonald.

"We can't throw that basketball around," Williams said. " We're going to face somebody (Tuesday), for example, that's going to have the same number of players that we do and be very effective defensively. We can't hurt ourselves."

Butler committed only seven turnovers and provided a thriller in the opening game of the tournament, as Rotnei Clarke hit a running 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give it a 72-71 win over Marquette on Monday.

Khyle Marshall hit 11 of his 15 shots and finished with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds for the Bulldogs (2-1), who bounced back after falling 62-47 at Xavier last Tuesday.

"I've been in this long enough to know that there are very few thrills like a buzzer-beater, especially one off one foot running," coach Brad Stevens said. "But I've also been in it long enough to know that it's hard being on the other side of it.

"We'll move on and look forward to playing (North Carolina) and see if we can't play a little better than we did in the first five minutes of the game."

Clarke, a transfer from Arkansas, was 6 of 20 from the field - including 3 of 13 from 3-point range - before his buzzer-beater.

"I sat out the whole (2011-12 season) and worked extremely hard and I'm trying to have opportunities and having a lot of fun so far," Clarke said.

Butler has lost six of its last seven regular-season games versus ranked opponents.