A host of Carolina fans made the trip, many of which from Hansbrough's Poplar Bluff, Mo., but many more of the record sellout crowd of 22,539 at the Scottrade Center hoped to witness an upset of the nation’s second-ranked team. The Blues could have been playing for the Stanley Cup title and the atmosphere could have hardly been any more intense.
“There’s a lot of pressure on a youngster to come back home and have half the town up here from Poplar Bluff,” Roy Williams said of Hansbrough's homecoming game. “Everybody expected him to score 80 and get every rebound and shut out his man.”
Hansbrough added, "I did feel more pressure than usual because I wanted to impress a lot of my close friends and family who may not get a chance to see us play in Chapel Hill."
After its worst half of shooting this season, Carolina (10-1) outscored St. Louis by 20 in the second half and won going away.
The first of Green’s long-range jumpers provided the Tar Heels with their first lead of the game at 14-12. But UNC struggled to find its shooting touch, managing just 29 percent from the floor in the first half. Though Hansbrough and Green’s play, as well as another solid defensive effort, enabled Carolina to take a 27-26 advantage into the break.
“I felt real comfortable,” Green said. "In the first half we weren’t shooting well at all as a team – bad games come and go. It’s just finding a rhythm, and once I found that rhythm I started playing well.”
Wright’s low-post feed to Hansbrough gave Carolina a 41-32 lead early in the second half, spurring Billikens’ coach Brad Soderberg to burn a timeout with 14:12 to play.
And despite a seemingly endless supply of TV breaks, Soderberg used another just two minutes later when a fast break layup by Deon Thompson extended the Tar Heels’ lead to 48-36.
After a late SLU rally pulled the Billikens within 11 points with less than five minutes remaining, Green nailed his final three from the left wing to make it 60-46.
Soderberg’s reaction – call another timeout.
“We couldn’t stop them in the second half,” Soderberg said. “That was the grounds for my frustration.”
However, by then the Tar Heels’ shooting woes were over, as they bounced back to shoot 60 percent in the second half.
“We played great defensively; the shots just weren’t falling [in the first half],” Wright said. “When we came out in the second half we hit like four or five baskets in a row, but the defense was there all night.”
With Wayne Ellington just 1-for-7 from the floor, Ty Lawson, along with Green, picked up the slack by scoring 12 points, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc.
“[The defender] was backing off me, and normally I don’t have to shoot,” Lawson said. “But he backed off, so I knocked it down today.”
Returning A-10 first-teamer Ian Vouyoukas’ 14 points and 13 rebounds led the Billikens (9-3), which lost for the first time in six home games.
Carolina returns to action Thursday at 7 p.m. versus Rutgers (6-5) of the Big East Conference.