UNC (29-6) moves on to Saturday’s night second-round to face nine-seed Michigan State (23-11) – 61-49 winners over eight-seed Marquette.
“It was a difficult day…right now basketball items are the things that keep me going,” said a subdued Roy Williams, tempered by recent knowledge his sister had succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease.
Williams set a new NCAA record for consecutive first round wins. Tonight’s victory marked his 18th straight — 14 at Kansas and four at North Carolina. Williams is 18-0 in NCAA Tournament first round games.
Razor sharp North Carolina was nearly perfect converting 12 of its first 13 shots and jumping out to 27-point first half lead. With 8:46 to go before halftime, UNC led 39-12, much to the delight of a Tar Heel based fan contingent still giddy after learning of Duke’s loss to VCU moments before tip-off.
It looked like this one was over shortly after six o’clock last Sunday when the tournament pairings were announced, until an EKU rally cut its halftime deficit to just 47-35. The Colonels (21-12), winners of the Ohio Valley Conference and qualifiers for their second tournament appearance in three seasons, weren’t ready to bow out without a fight.
The Tar Heels settled for 67 percent field goal numbers in the first half – 4-for-8 from three-point range, but a 7-1 Colonels’ run to start the final period nearly silenced the capacity Joel Coliseum crowd when Carolina led just 48-44 at the 16:04 mark.
“It was so easy that we lost our focus,” Williams said. “And then, all of a sudden, we got a little sloppy and made some bad decisions.”
Then Carolina turned up its game one more time to turn back EKU. An inbounds alley-oop pass and dunk from Ty Lawson to Reyshawn Terry, followed by a Terry three on the Tar Heels’ next possession gave UNC a 67-50 lead with nine minutes left to assure that order had been restored.
“I was just trying to take pressure off our point guards, take care of the gaps and attack their defense,” Terry said.
The resurgent Terry was good for 18 points, Lawson dished out seven assists to go with 12 points, Brandan Wright scored 13 and blocked five shots, while Wayne Ellington chipped in 13.
Meanwhile, Carolina got its statistical leader back to true form.
Tyler Hansbrough’s new slim-line mask was a big hit. After a hitting just 9-of-23 shots (39.1 percent) in the ACC Tournament, he bounced back with a 9-of-11 shooting performance en route to game-highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“I can see a lot better and (the mask) is just a lot more comfortable,” Hansbrough said.
Carolina out-rebounded Eastern Kentucky, 38-16.
Darnell Dialls 17 points led the Colonels, now 0-7 all-time in NCAA Tournament play.