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Butler continues to show its resilience

11/27/2014

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Butler has handled adversity better than most programs. The Bulldogs have dealt with it on the court in late-game situations against higher profile opponents, in realignment in moving from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East and now in coaching.

The stats don't lie, and the mythical nature of the Butler way truly has power.

The Bulldogs added another remarkable moment to their now-storied modern history with a 74-66 upset of No. 5 North Carolina in the quarterfinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

"I can't give enough credit to our guys," Butler interim coach Chris Holtmann said. "They really followed the game plan. Our assistant coaches did an unbelievable job preparing our guys for our defensive game plan in the way that we wanted to attack them."

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said, "It's very disappointing to us. Butler's coaches did a much better job at getting their team to play."

Butler dominated the glass, outrebounding the taller Tar Heels 57-40 with Kameron Woods corralling 13 and Butler getting 29 offensive rebounds.

"We got 26 defensive rebounds, they got 29 offensive rebounds [most allowed by UNC since 2009] and that means they got more of their missed shots than we did," Williams said. "That is being very aggressive, and they did a much better job of it than we did."

Williams said he didn't see this coming and added he thought the Tar Heels would rise to the challenge. That has been a familiar refrain for Butler opponents in the past.

"I've said it since the beginning of the year: We have tough guys, and I think that was displayed today and needs to continue to be something we do," Holtmann said. "I'm proud for them, proud for this moment."

Butler is in the midst of yet another transition, as head coach Brandon Miller continues on a medical leave. Miller is taking the 12-week federal leave during which the job is protected. Butler athletic director Barry Collier said Tuesday there is no specific date for Miller's return, but he expects there to be a resolution by the first of the year (which would make sense, since the leave started Oct. 2).

Miller abruptly left Ohio State's staff in 2011 when he worked for Thad Matta, saying at the time he was seeking balance in his life. Miller took over the Bulldogs from Brad Stevens after the two-time national runner-up coach stunned Butler and the college basketball community by taking the Boston Celtics coaching job in 2013.

Holtmann, who was a former head coach at Gardner-Webb, has had no issues since he took over for Miller, moving up on the bench to head coach. He said the veteran players, especially the return of Roosevelt Jones from a season-ending injury a season ago, has made the transition go without a hiccup. Players and staff here in the Bahamas all said there have been no problems playing for Holtmann.

One of the reasons is the complete buy-in and belief that the Butler way works, regardless of who is at the helm. Alex Barlow is a symbol of the Bulldogs' spirited play. He is a former walk-on who is undersized but almost never overmatched. His reputation pales in comparison to that of North Carolina's Marcus Paige, but he outplayed Paige on Wednesday. Barlow scored 17 points, had three steals and made four 3s while Paige was 5-of-17, missed a surprising seven free throws and had three turnovers despite scoring 18 points.

The Bulldogs, who beat the Tar Heels in the Maui Invitational in 2012, have maximized plenty of opportunities against higher profile teams in nonconference games and the NCAA tournament. The move to the Big East was another symbol of Butler expecting to compete at a higher level in the regular season -- not just in March.

Holtmann has had complete support from Collier, and with the Bulldogs' history of hiring from within the staff or someone who has ties to the school, his chances of landing the full-time gig if Miller isn't returning bode well.

"This is a very proud program with a tremendous heritage," Holtmann said. "We're trying to do the very best with what's in front of us, and our guys are excited about this opportunity on this stage."