ACC Basketball: UNC 79, Duke 71
By Bret Strelow
CHAPEL HILL ó Tyler Hansbrough grabbed the microphone from classmate Danny Green and walked toward midcourt long after North Carolina had wrapped up a 79-71 win against Duke on senior day at the Smith Center.
Hansbrough continued to inch closer to UNC’s bench while proceeding through an emotional four-minute speech. He was only a few feet from the stands as he choked back tears and acknowledged his family, notably his two brothers.
The end of a record-setting college career is approaching quickly, and Hansbrough has come a long way in the years since an icestorm relegated him to a nearby hotel room, ruining his first recruiting trip to UNC.
“I didn’t like Carolina at all,” Hansbrough recalled. “That icestorm kind of kept me over, and it was kind of miserable.
“I didn’t really know anybody, I was here by myself, the airport was closed, and there was nothing to do but shack up and watch TV. I remember staring out the window of the hotel going, ‘Oh man.’ ”
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon, when Hansbrough scored a team-high 17 points in his home finale and helped the Tar Heels (27-3, 13-3) clinch an outright ACC title by beating their heated rival. Junior guard Ty Lawson, questionable because of a right toe injury, contributed 13 points and nine assists in 36 minutes.
Hansbrough pumped his right fist during a pregame introduction of UNC’s outgoing seniors, and all seven of them joined Lawson on the court for the opening tip. Walk-ons Patrick Moody, Jack Wooten and J.B. Tanner exited the floor to an ovation before play began, and the Tar Heels went ahead for good in the first three minutes of the second half. The outcome dropped Duke (25-6, 11-5) to the No. 3 seed for the upcoming ACC Tournament.
UNC players and coaches cut away pieces of one net afterward, and Bobby Frasor climbed the ladder to take one final snip as his fellow seniors stood below.
“This team will always be one thing to me,” coach Roy Williams said. “A team with ability? Yes, but great character and great characters.
“I have a hard time being around that team without laughing. I have a hard time being around this team without realizing how lucky I am.”
Hansbrough came close to committing to Florida as a high school standout, but his fondness for UNC’s coaches triggered a second visit to Chapel Hill.
He needs only 53 more points to become the ACC’s all-time leading scorer, and he’s already qualified to have his No. 50 jersey retired in the Smith Center rafters.
His swan song in the building ended in unpredictable fashion ó he fouled out for only the third time in his college career. He received a loud ovation as he walked to the bench with 13.8 seconds remaining.
“I’ll remember my last game I fouled out, but we beat Duke, too,” Hansbrough said. “I was honestly kind of upset, but I was trying to get a hold of myself because the game was wrapped up.”
North Carolina led only 70-68 after Duke’s Jon Scheyer (24 points) hit a 3-pointer with 3:24 left.
Lawson, who wasn’t on the floor for a portion of warmups, penetrated deep into the lane and passed out to Green for a critical 3-pointer on the next possession.
A weekend X-ray revealed that Lawson had broken the big toe on his right foot earlier this season.
“If I had two more days to rest before this game, I probably would have been 100 percent,” Lawson said. “It just takes time for these injuries to heal.
“It felt numb. It felt like I was running on four toes.”
Lawson scooted past Scheyer and converted a three-point play to give UNC a 76-69 lead with 1:03 left, and the Tar Heels regained possession when Frasor forced a jump ball on a drive by Gerald Henderson.
Hansbrough drew a foul with 29 seconds remaining and waved his arms while looking toward the student section.
“When you think of Tyler, you’re going to think of a warrior,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “You would never say that there was a possession that he did not play, and he’s really good.
“It puts them in a really elite class in the history of this conference. He deserves all that he gets. I mean, he’s earned it.”
Duke would have earned a share of the league title and the top seed for the ACC Tournament with a win. Wake Forest, thanks to its 1-0 record against UNC, beat out the Blue Devils for the No. 2 spot.
Kyle Singler scored 15 of his 23 points in the first half, but the Tar Heels again controlled the final 20 minutes as they secured a regular-season sweep of Duke.
“It was a hard game to play,” Hansbrough said. “You’re thinking about everything.
“You’re thinking about your after-game speech, who you’re going to thank. You’re thinking, ‘Oh man, this is my last game in the Dean Dome.’ Then you start to think about your college career coming to an end, and you’re still trying to focus on the game. It was difficult.”