Lawson did most of his damage in the early going through transition, setting a strong UNC defensive presence with four steals en route to a 19-point first half performance on 7-of-9 shooting (2-of-3 three-pointers) as the Tar Heels took a 47-26 lead at the break.
"I just knew they were going to focus on Tyler [Hansbrough] – doubling and things like that, so I just got ready to knock down some open [shots] and get some steals, because I knew they would drive and try to kick out,” Lawson said, who added that his ankle is back close to 100 percent healthy.
Hansbrough contributed his usual double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, before giving the Tar Heel faithful a scare when he went down hard taking a charge underneath the Scarlet Knights’ basket with 5:47 remaining in the ball game.
Hansbrough admitted to still being dizzy during postgame interviews in the North Carolina locker room, but he was cleared to fly home to Chapel Hill.
Head coach Roy Williams confirmed that his workhorse had a concussion, adding that it “was the first time in the history of college basketball a guy got a concussion with no foul called.”
But the Tar Heels (9-0) have already faced the adversity of playing without one of their key playmakers – Lawson suffered a right ankle sprain that sidelined him for the better part of two games earlier this season.
“We were just worried about his health, really,” junior Danny Green said, who also missed first half action to receive five stitches over his right eye. “We know that we’re going to be able to do what we want to do if we just keep playing together as a team. We played without Ty a couple of games, so we feel like if we lose somebody, everybody else is going to step up and we’re still be able to accomplish our goals.”
Rutgers’ J.R. Inman entered Sunday night’s contest averaging 16.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and provided added motivation to Hansbrough by suggesting the All-American could not guard him in the post. The Pomona, N.Y. native failed to live up to his own billing, however, finishing with just 10 points (3-of-14 shooting) and three rebounds on the night.
“I heard about them right before the game,” Hansbrough said about Inman’s comments. “You can talk all you want, but when you get out on the court, all of that talking stops… I can’t believe he actually said that, to be honest with you. Good for him. I thought I played well – I’m not sure how he feels.”
The Scarlet Knights' backcourt tandem of Corey Chandler (23 points) and Anthony Farmer (17 points) kept the home team close for most of the evening, but Rutgers could not overcome losing the turnover (20-12) and rebounding (52-40) battles to North Carolina.
“There were parts in the game, particularly in the first half, where we were really good defensively,” Williams said. “We got them to turn it over and turned it into points for us on the other end.”
The Tar Heels held their opponents to 38.5 percent shooting (25-of-65) on the night, while knocking down only 42.5 percent of their own field goals (34-of-80). The boys in blue were effective from the free throw line, however, connecting on 19-of-21 attempts.
UNC returns home on Wednesday for the first time since Nov. 20 following a six-game road trip as Nicholls State comes to town for a 9 p.m. tip on ESPNU.
"It’s been a difficult stretch for our guys and I feel really good about the record and what we accomplished," Williams said. "I think – hopefully – we have gotten a lot better and we will show it down the line.”