KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Ticker) -- A lethargic performance in the first half was too much for Wake Forest to overcome.
The seventh-seeded Demon Deacons shot a dismal 12 percent in the first half as 10th-seeded Butler erased the disappointing memory of last year's first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament with a convincing 79-63 victory in the Midwest Region.
With a combination of hot shooting and tight defense, Butler (24-7) opened a 25-3 advantage over the first 8:58 of the game and did not allow a basket in the opening nine minutes en route to a comfortable 43-10 cushion at the half.
"There's no question that our defense won the game," Butler first-year coach Thad Matta said. "Our guys had great awareness and activity off the ball." The Bulldogs drained eight 3-pointers in the first half and shot 53 percent (16-of-30) overall, while the Demon Deacons connected on just 3-of-25 attempts from the floor in the opening 20 minutes.
"I never thought of being in a situation like that, not even in my worst nightmare," Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said. "But that's basketball. You just learn to deal with it." Wake Forest (19-11) showed signs of life early in the second half by outscoring Butler, 26-11, over the first nine minutes.
The Deacons got within 18 on three occasions, the last coming with 4:30 remaining on a 3-pointer by Robert O'Kelley, but could not get any closer than the final margin. They suffered their first opening-round loss in the NCAA Tournament since 1992, ending a streak of five consecutive first-round wins.
"It's college basketball and it is the reason this is the best sport going," Odom said. "This tournament gives you an opportunity to know their names and an opportuunity to show what they can do." Brandon Miller scored 18 points for Butler, which won its first NCAA Tournament game since 1962. Last year, the Bulldogs extended eventual national runner-up Florida to overtime before losing at the buzzer.
Butler, the Midwestern Collegiate Conference champion, will play second-seeded Arizona in the second round on Sunday at Kemper Arena.
O'Kelley, in his final game for the Deacons, scored all 20 of his points in the second half. This was Wake Forest's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1997.
As Wake Forest could not find the basket early on, Butler could not miss. The Bulldogs made seven 3-pointers in the first 8:38 of the game, with Thomas Jackson, LaVall Jordan and Rylan Hainje converting two each. Hainje's second from behind the arc gave Butler a 25-3 lead with 11:22 left.
The Deacons missed their first 11 shots of the game as the deficit grew to 22 points. O'Kelley scored Wake Forest's first basket on a layup with 11:02 to play, but his team scored just five points the rest of the half.
Butler closed the first half on an 18-5 run to jump to a 43-10 advantage. Hainje scored 12 points in the opening 20 minutes and Jordan added 11.
"I've never seen a half that we played so well all year," Matta said. "Of course we were excited to have such a big lead. But we knew we couldn't go out and let up in the second half." Ironically, Wake Forest built a 41-9 halftime lead against Clemson on February 21 before cruising to a 32-point victory. The roles were reversed Friday as the Deacons were held to a season low for points in a half.
"We got into a hole too deep to get out of," Odom said.
Butler extended its winning streak to nine games and gave the Mid-Continent Conference a win in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. It was the Bulldogs' first win in the NCAA Tournament since defeating Western Kentucky in overtime, 87-86, in 1962.
"Wake Forest didn't know who we were so we wanted to show them," Jordan said. "I think there was just a general lack of respect." Darius Songaila scored 13 points and Broderick Hicks contributed 10 for Wake Forest, which shot 59 percent (20-of-34) in the second half to improve to 39 percent (23-of-59) for the game.