Five Tar Heels scored in double figures in the 2007-08 home opener at the Smith Center. Danny Green continued his strong early season play with 15 points and six rebounds, as did Wayne Ellington (14 points, 4-of-6 on three-point shots). Ty Lawson (13 points, nine assists) and Deon Thompson (13 points, six rebounds) both overcame lackluster performances in the season-opening victory over Davidson to provide balance to the Tar Heels’ up-tempo offense.
Roy Williams’ squad shot 50.8 percent on the evening, while outrebounding the Gaels 47-22. The fifth-year UNC head coach was pleased with the Tar Heels offensive patience and shot selection.
“We shot 50 percent for the game and 10-of-24 [three-pointers], which is too many," Williams said. "I don’t like that, but three were from the guys at the end of the game. Just because the other team is playing zone doesn’t mean you have to shoot the ball from outside.”
Ellington indicated that the Tar Heels are ready to capitalize on open looks from behind the arc when opponents pack their defense around Hansbrough and Co.
“We are just confident, especially from the perimeter,” Ellington said. “We feel like if we get it inside, they are going to collapse on our big men and we are going to be ready from the outside.”
First-year Iona head coach Kevin Willard is facing the unenviable task of rebuilding a program that posted a 2-28 record last season, and his team was simply unable to handle the relentless defensive pressure that the Tar Heels threw at them.
Dexter Gray lead the Gaels with 18 points and Andre Tarver added 16, but Iona shot 33.3 percent from the field in the first half before a solid finish bumped that statistic up to 46.3 percent for the game.
“We let them take too many uncontested shots, and you don’t like to look down and see that the other team shoots 57 percent against you in a half,” Williams said. “For us, I thought we were active defensively, especially in the first half. After that, we still did some good things, but not as consistently as we were in the first half.”
Hansbrough showcased why he is the key cog in Williams’ system, drawing a multitude of fouls and hitting 11-of-15 free throw attempts.
During one first-half stretch, Hansbrough excited the crowd with a transition slam dunk over Iona's De'Shaune Griffin while drawing a foul.
"That's probably my best dunk since I've been here," he said.
The junior All-American missed his free throw attempt, but darted to the right side line to retrieve his own rebound. He missed the put-back and grabbed another rebound before finally adding two more points to the scoreboard.
“He plays basketball the way every kid should play basketball in my mind,” Willard said. “He plays so physical and is an impressive player… That’s mostly what impressed me about Tyler Hansbrough – the fact that he plays defense as hard as he plays offense.”
North Carolina overcame a second consecutive slow start by using the three-point shot as an ignition switch. With Iona loading the paint with multiple defenders to hassle Hansbrough, the Tar Heels had plenty of open looks from the behind the arc and they capitalized with solid ball movement, draining six of the first eight three-pointers.
Green connected on two three-pointers to prompt an early 11-1 run, and Ellington added two of his own during a later 18-1 spurt in the first half. Lawson (10 points), Hansbrough (13) and Green (10) all reached double figures in the first 20 minutes to give the Heels a comfortable 52-26 halftime cushion.