by Anthony Harrison
While March Madness reached peak insanity on Friday, there were no big upsets in Raleigh’s PNC Arena last night.
That doesn’t mean the games were no fun to watch. Both featured immensely talented No. 9 seeds taking stands against No. 1 seeds with powerhouse legacies.
First up, the Butler University Bulldogs put up a hell of a fight against the vaunted University of Virginia Cavaliers.
The first half started as a tightly defensive slugfest on both sides. Both teams combined scored only 12 points in the first seven minutes and 45 seconds of the game; the game was tied at 6-6. All points were either scored by Butler forward Andrew Chrabascz or UVA guard Malcolm Brogdon.
Finally, Butler forward Austin Etherington broke the duel between the two stars with a three-pointer.
Stiff, physical defense kept the score almost bafflingly low: Butler led 25-23 at halftime.
Both teams exploded in the second half.
The back-and-forth ties and lead changes from the first portion of the game bled into the half, but shots which refused to fall during the first decided to take the good bounces in the second. For most of the period, neither team could secure a lead of more than five. Momentum strained to the breaking point in this war of attrition as both teams scored a dizzying number of points relative to their first half efforts.
Brogdon’s simple layup with 6:35 remaining at last secured UVA a healthy edge over the weakening Bulldogs. With that, Virginia extended their lead to 61-55, and the energy transferred over to the Wahoos.
Still, Chrabascz hit shots; he’d claim the top spot as the game’s high scorer with 25, including hitting all four of his three-point attempts. Butler forward Roosevelt Jones also subtly began contributing points in the paint; he’d finish with 18.
The Bulldogs wouldn’t let go, though.
After the Cavaliers established a salient, Butler did its best to regain the lead; with 37 seconds remaining, Jones brought his team back to just a three-point deficit.
But Jones then fouled UVA guard Marial Shayok. While Shayok missed the front end of his two free throws, he sank the second one, making the score 73-69 Cavaliers.
Facing a two-possession game with no time left, Butler resorted to fouling. Sad thing was that Virginia made their shots; Butler couldn’t pull off the 11th-hour shocker.
Virginia won their close battle with a final score of 77-69.
The No. 1-seeded UNC-Chapel Hill Tar Heels had faced a formidable No. 16-seed foe on Thursday evening, and No. 9-seed Providence College Friars proved no less difficult to overcome.
The Friars’ guard corps, led by senior Kris Dunn, initially struck fear into the Heels’ hearts. They were fast — slipping into the paint for slashing layups, faking out Carolina’s own guards in the wings for long jumpers. Providence swingman Ben Bentil even struck a big blow by taking the lead with a big three with under seven minutes remaining in the first half.
Also, UNC’s star forward, Brice Johnson, seemed a touch out of the game. The Heels gave up three turnovers due to communication breakdowns with Johnson for easy alley-oops.
That didn’t last.
Johnson eventually joined the game in earnest, making a ferocious block with just over four minutes remaining in the first.
The Heels regained a shaky lead by halftime, going into their cooldown period with a score of 34-30.
While Providence came on strong to start the second, Carolina regrouped quickly.
After two tense minutes, guard/forward Justin Jackson made a clutch three. This sparked the slow but steady process of Carolina finishing the game against the Friars.
Johnson woke up, made jumpers, sank his free throws and began pounding the boards; he’d end up with a double-double. Four other UNC players — Jackson, guard Joel Berry II, forward Isaiah Hicks and senior guard Marcus Paige — recorded double-digit offensive figures.
Meanwhile, Providence got into foul trouble.
After Bentil fouled out, the close match became a rout.
For the second time in a row, the Tar Heels walked away — battered and bruised, but not defeated — with an impressive final score: 85-66.