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The Tar Heels needed a 16-9 run in the final 6:05 to put away a scrappy, veteran Davidson squad. Ty Lawson hit three free throws in the final 31 seconds to secure the win in front of a mixed crowd at the Charlotte Bobcats Arena.
Ellington's performance was essential on a night in which Tyler Hansbrough and Lawson were taken out of their rhythm. The Wildcats were effective in double-teaming Hansbrough (14 points, 14 rebounds) in the post, holding the Preseason All-American to six field goal attempts – all coming in the first half.
"We did a very poor job of getting him the ball in the second half, but yet, that's what their team wanted to do as well," head coach Roy Williams said. "Every time he touched it, they doubled him and we've got to get him more than six shots in a game. I'd like for him to have 20 shots every game – that means adding his free throw attempts to his field goal attempts. He only had 16, so we've got to do a better job than that."
Lawson picked up his third foul less than 10 minutes into game, which prevented the sophomore point guard from picking up the contest's tempo until the final minutes. He finished with eight points, one assist and four turnovers in just 21 minutes.
Things looked bleak for the Heels only 11:22 into the game – Davidson led by seven points, Lawson was on the bench with three personal fouls, and Wildcat sensation Stephen Curry was just getting warmed up. But Quentin Thomas and Bobby Frasor picked up the slack at the point, and Marcus Ginyard frustrated Curry all night, holding the sophomore to 24 points on 8-of-22 (2-12 3pt) shooting.
"Curry is load to try to guard," Williams said. "He runs off those screens, he's got a quick release and he can shoot the dickens out of it, but I think Marcus, Bobby and Wayne – they guarded him mostly – I think they did a nice job. You hope that you can make somebody 2-for-12 from the three-point line, but yet, he scares you to death."
North Carolina finished the first half on a 26-12 run over the final 9:38, giving the Heels a 38-31 halftime working margin. But the Wildcats charged out with more intensity after the break, recapturing the lead at 43-40 less than five minutes into the final stanza.
Williams has hinted since the summer that Danny Green would see action at the power forward spot, but he probably never expected his junior wing to play extensive minutes in that role during the season opener. Green's 29 minutes tops his previous career-high by six minutes en route to 11 points and six rebounds before fouling out in the final seconds.
"We didn't get anything at all out of Deon [Thompson] and Alex [Stepheson] and I think they're going to be really good players for us, but they have to play better," Williams said. "I don't want us to go all year long having to play Danny as the No. 4 man."
While Williams will not be happy with the 19 turnovers, he's bound to be pleased that his North Carolina squad held the Wildcats to 38.8 percent shooting on the night.
"I think [this game] is going to help us out a lot in the long run," Green said. "The blowout games don't help us out so much, but these games here help us take that step forward."