“I really wanted to focus on getting that bad taste out of our mouth and I think for the most part we did that,” Roy Williams said.
Tyler Hansbrough, who finished with 14 points, tied a Smith Center record with eight steals, matching Dudley Bradley and Derrick Phelps for second on the UNC all-time list. Phelps holds the school single-game steals record with nine at Georgia Tech on Feb. 2, 1992.
Even more impressive was Hansbrough’s ability to use his thefts to ignite fast breaks.
“I didn’t want to slow us down by pulling the ball out and waiting for somebody,” Hansbrough said. “I just want to go. I just want to run.”
Reyshawn Terry and Marcus Ginyard each added 14 points and Noel chipped in 13. But it was Danny Green who led all UNC scorers with 15 points to go with his career-high 11 rebounds. It was Green’s best scoring outing since notching 17 points in the season-opening win over Gardner-Webb.
“Our guys just jumped on them early and they never could get into it,” Terry said. “That’s always a good feeling – to jump on a team early.”
One game removed from a major second-half meltdown in Los Angeles in which it committed a season-high 25 turnovers and shot just 25 percent in the second half, Carolina was considerably sharper on both ends of the court.
After barely edging USC on the boards and going just 12-for-23 at the charity stripe, UNC dominated the rebounding battle against the Bulldogs, 51-38, while converting 79 percent of its free throws.
In addition, the Tar Heels had eight players record at least one assist.
“In the USC game we came out flat,” Noel said. “They out-hustled us in every sense of the word and tonight we just wanted to come out and play the tempo that we wanted to play.”
However, neither team could find its range from long distance as they both combined for a miserable 5-of-28 from three-point range.
Most of the talk before the game questioned how UNC (7-2) would shake off its worst performance of the season, a 74-59 loss to the Trojans.
Enter the Bulldogs (2-7), a team used to getting kicked around by ACC teams, which had already lost at Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and N.C. State by an average of 24.3 points.
Bulldogs’ coach Eddie Biedenbach has been a glutton for punishment of late. UNCA’s fearless scheduling practices may result in added revenue and recruiting punch, but it’s not helping the former N.C. State player and assistant’s win-loss tally.
“I told our guys before the game that it was going to be a high-octane game and that we had to take the wind out of their scorers by doing some things; but, we couldn’t get those done,” Biedenbach said. “But we will learn a lot when we get back and look at the tape and understand that when you play good teams you have to make their runs come over long periods of time, not on quick baskets.”
Still, when UNCA whittled a 53-20 halftime deficit down to 28 to start the second half, the Tar Heels struggled to stay sharp, committing 13 of their 18 turnovers after the break.
But a falling down three by Terry and a subsequent fast break layup by Bobby Frasor with 10:13 remaining, touched off a 24-6 UNC run to close out UNCA.
“We got so sloppy with the ball in the second half,” Williams said. “But I guess it’s always difficult when you’ve got a big lead to keep the same intensity and concentration that you did in the first half.”
The Tar Heels' next opponent will be more difficult, when Davidson (7-3, 1-0 Southern) comes to Chapel Hill on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. tipoff. The Wildcats' losses were all on the road at Duke, Charlotte and Syracuse.
“We’ve got some tough teams coming up and we’ve got to keep it going,” Ginyard said.