Freshman Tyler Hansbrough led all scorers with a career-high 23 points, connecting on 7-of-13 field goal attempts and converting 9-of-11 from the free throw line.
But after the game it was the team’s defense Hansbrough was talking up, rather than his own offensive performance.
“Obviously Coach [Roy Williams] really stresses that in practice,” Hansbrough said. “He says we really need to pressure in order for us to really play well. I think that’s what we tried to do.”
What was once an annual intra-conference match-up back in the days of short sleeves and narrow three-second lanes, ultimately amounted to a mere tune-up for the Tar Heels (8-2), which next embark on their ACC slate against No. 13 N.C. State (12-1).
“The team will find out more about itself on Saturday,” Williams said. “Hopefully David [Noel] and Reyshawn [Terry] will be able to pass that information along to them. And hopefully we’ll play more intelligent because I’ve got a smart bunch of kids, I really do.”
The Wildcats (7-5), of the Southern Conference, struggled mightily from just after the tipoff when Marcus Ginyard scored three seconds into the contest until back-to-back baskets by walk-on Thomas Wilkins closed out the game’s scoring. Thanks to twice as many rebounds, as well as holding Davidson to 32 percent from the floor, Carolina managed to overcome its own early lackluster play and streak to the locker room with a 34-20 halftime lead.
The outlook only worsened for the Wildcats the rest of the way, as the Tar Heels turned up the defensive pressure even further, forcing Davidson into 20 turnovers, including 13 steals.
“The defensive effort by North Carolina tonight was extraordinary,” Wildcats coach Bob McKillop said. “They made every catch, every dribble, every pass an adventure for us.”
Early in the second half, Terry took a fall, literally winding up in the visiting team’s entry tunnel. After a hushed period of silence in which Williams walked across the corner of the court to take a look, Terry bounced up and then bounced back by scoring 12 of his 16 points in the second half and blocking four shots.
In fact, nearly everything Terry did after his spill was of the highlight reel variety.
Still, the Tar Heels were not exactly sharp taking care of the basketball, accumulating 20 turnovers of their own. And while the final outcome was never really in doubt, Williams spent a period of the game incensed with his team’s play.
The turnovers, and the fact Davidson answered a 17-0 UNC run with an 8-0 run of its own to end the first half, disappointed Williams.
With just over eight minutes to play, Williams' blood was boiling as he ripped off his gray pin-striped suit jacket and slammed it to the bench.
“I really wasn’t mad at the officials that time,” Williams said.
Wes Miller, who hit two big threes in the first half, gave his account of the timeout that followed.
“I think Coach was frustrated a little bit about our mental mistakes,” Miller said. “I don’t know about a scale of one to ten. Coach is just so intense, he’s so competitive. He really does strive for us to be a perfect basketball team, to play the perfect game.”
But while UNC’s third-year skipper lectured his players seated on the bench, Hansbrough manhandled his way to back-to-back buckets in the paint. A fast break dunk by Byron Sanders moments later ignited the crowd of 18,334. A pair of Terry free throws lifted the Tar Heels to their biggest lead of the game at 73-44 with 3:26 remaining.
“I think it was real physical down low,” Hansbrough said. “I missed a lot of easy shots that could have been made.”
Sanders, who finished with eight points, would leave the game to a rousing ovation.
Carolina’s 23 assists matched a season-best for the Tar Heels, with a career-high six coming from Quentin Thomas.
“I always thought I could have games like this and even better,” Thomas said.