MEMPHIS, Tenn. — North Carolina got a scare in its second-round win against Arkansas. Last night, the top-seeded Tar Heels were just scary good.
Joel Berry II scored 26 points and Justin Jackson added 24 as North Carolina moved to the Elite Eight with a 92-80 victory over No. 4 seed Butler Butler in the NCAA South Regional.
North Carolina will meet the winner of the late game between Kentucky and UCLA in the South Regional final tomorrow. It is the 27th time the Tar Heels have reached the Elite Eight.
Luke Maye recorded his first career double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, helping fuel a quick start for Carolina (30-7). The Tar Heels never let their lead get under double digits in the second half.
Andrew Chrabascz led the Bulldogs (25-9) with 21 points and seven rebounds. Kelan Martin added 16 points for Butler, which struggled shooting early and did not recover.
Carolina, which held off Arkansas in a wildly entertaining, near-upset to reach the Sweet 16, connected on 54.4 percent of their shots, while Butler was at 43.5 percent.
The Tar Heels broke out of the gate early last night, building a double-digit lead and really weren’t threatened after halftime, although Butler did get within 10 at one point. North Carolina used early accurate shooting to build a 16-point lead as the Tar Heels connected on 13 of their first 18 shots, including missing only one of seven from outside the arc.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were suffering through a scoring drought the stretched beyond four minutes. That helped Carolina build the advantage to 30-14 when Maye connected on a three-pointer near the midway point of the first half.
While Butler managed to whittle the deficit to single digits on a couple of occasions before halftime, North Carolina would simply answer with another rally, the last one of the half stretching the Tar Heels lead to 52-32 on its eighth three-pointer of the half.
By halftime, Jackson had 17 points, and Maye had already reached his career-high in points with 14, plus grabbing nine of the Tar Heels’ 22 boards. That helped Carolina carry a 52-36 lead into the break. Chrabascz led the Bulldogs with 11 points.
The Tar Heels lead would stretch the lead back to 20 near the 12-minute mark of the second half, but
Butler, which now 2-5 against No. 1 seeds in the tournament, didn’t exactly allow North Carolina to coast home. A 13-4 Bulldog run made a dent in the advantage as Martin had seven in the stretch with Avery Woodson connecting on a three. Martin closed out the run with another three to pull Butler within 71-60. But while the Bulldogs would cut the Carolina advantage to 10 points two minutes later, they would get no closer the rest of the way.
Notes & quotes: Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, who made the winning three-pointer at the buzzer to beat North Carolina in last year’s national championship game, was seated near the UNC bench. Jenkins was cheering on his brother, senior guard Nate Britt . . . Vice President Mike Pence, who once was expected to attend last night’s game, cancelled Friday because of the action in Washington surrounding health care. Pence has ties to Butler, not only as the former governor of Indianapolis, but also because his wife, Karen, attended the school.