Lewis career comes full circle with Sweet 16 matchup against UNC

Matchup against the Tar Heels brings back memories for former NC State point guard Tyler Lewis, who has found a home and peace while thriving at Butler

Benny Sieu—USA Today Sports
Mar 16

MEMPHIS — No matter how far away Tyler Lewis’ basketball career takes him, the game always seems to bring him back home. It’s a revelation that struck the NC State transfer as he sat in Butler’s locker room answering questions from a group of North Carolina media members at FedExForum on Thursday. A former McDonald’s All-American from Statesville, Lewis left the Wolfpack for his current school after his sophomore season in 2013-14 and has helped the Bulldogs to two straight NCAA tournament appearances. The first one featured two games on a familiar court, PNC Arena in Raleigh. This time, after early round victories against Winthrop and Middle Tennessee State, Lewis finds himself in Memphis staring another reminder home — tonight’s Sweet 16 matchup against top-seeded North Carolina. “Life is just a circle,” said Lewis, as he prepared for what could potentially be the last game of his eventful college career. “Last year I played at PNC in the NCAA tournament and now I’m playing against North Carolina. It’s just a circle, the circle of life.” In Lewis’ case, that circle has looked more like an amoeba at times because of the extra twists and turns his career has taken. It began during his sophomore year at Forsyth Country Day School, when he committed to play for then-coach Sidney Lowe at State. Lowe was gone by the time he arrived in Raleigh and as an undersized 5-foot-11, 170-pound point guard, found playing time scarce first behind Lorenzo Brown and then Cat Barber. Lewis provided an unintentional commentary about his Wolfpack experience when he was asked Thursday about the one basketball moment he remembered most. It wasn’t the two NCAA tournament appearances, the 13 points and six assists he posted against Duke in his first career start or all those assists feeding ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren. Rather, he said it was the time ESPN’s College GameDay came to State for its game against UNC his freshman year. Lewis averaged 3.9 points during his two seasons with the Wolfpack and led the team in assists at 3.8 in 2013-14. But with Barber emerging as rising star — one that was recruited by new coach Mark Gottfried — he decided it was time to move on and find a fresh start. “It was definitely a tough decision,” Lewis said. “It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make leaving NC State, a school I really love and have a lot of respect for. It’s hard to leave your home state, it’s hard to leave the ACC having grown up going to ACC tournaments in Greensboro, right in your backyard. Honestly, I think it was the right decision.” Lewis considered in-state option Charlotte, along with Gonzaga, Purdue, Xavier and UAB before settling on Butler. As difficult as it might have been for him to leave State, he said the decision to join the Bulldogs was a no-brainer. “It just a family environment,” Lewis said. “The coach (Chris Holtmann) is tremendous. Just the Butler way, it’s not just a saying. It’s something you live by. These coaches really care for you. They love you. And these teammates in the locker room will do anything for you.” In return, Lewis has done whatever it takes to help the team. After starting the season’s first 23 games, the senior guard began coming off the bench for the Bulldogs. It’s a move that helped the Bulldogs earn a No. 4 seed in the NCAA’s South Region without hurting his statistics. He still leads Butler with 133 assists and is shooting a career-best 40 percent from 3-point range while averaging 6.5 points per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.03 is led the Big East Conference and ranks third nationally. “He’s great because he controls the game so well,” teammate Andrew Chrabascz said of Lewis. “No pressure really gets him rattled, which is huge for us offensively. He makes the right play at the right time more often than not.” Lewis will need to be at the top of his game for his team to have a shot at upsetting UNC tonight and advance to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight. Although he only played three minutes against the Tar Heels in the Wolfpack’s 91-83 win in January 2013, he does have experience at beating his one-time state rival. It’s a game both he and those who played against him that day remember well — to the point where neither side needs much of a scouting report. “Tyler is super crafty,” UNC backup point guard Nate Britt said. “Guarding him, you have to be ready for anything because he can shoot, finish around the rim and he gets his teammates involved. “I’ve grown up playing with