The Tar Heels could only watch as the Crusaders slowly and methodically erased a 17-point UNC lead with a combination of three-pointers and dribble penetration conversions to knot the score at 37 only minutes into the second half.
That’s when Green entered the game to do what he does best – just as the junior New Yorker ignited the crowd before the opening tip with his “Jump Around” dance routine, he also jumpstarted his teammates with 11 points on three three-pointers and a tip-in in a 4:31 span to quickly open up a 53-39 lead.
“I was just playing basketball – I wasn’t really thinking,” Green said. “I was just playing in the flow of the game. Got into a little groove, got into a rhythm, and started to pick up the energy not just for myself, but also for my team.”
His stat line told a tale of effort and execution – a career-high tying 20 points on 8-of-10 field goals (4-of-5 from beyond the arc), five assists, four blocks, four rebounds and three steals. His contributions from his sixth-man role have not gone unnoticed.
“Danny’s come off the bench and given us a lift a lot,” junior All-American Tyler Hansbrough said, who posted 23 points and 13 rebounds. “At Kentucky, and then again tonight he provided a boost for us. He’s a big part of this team. I’m not sure everybody overlooks him – we know how big he is to us.”
Green had struggled since the Nicholls State contest with his shot (6-of-17 from the floor), increasing the anxiety throughout the Tar Heel fan base about who would – or even who could – replace Frasor’s outside shooting. But he was actively looking for his shot against the Crusaders in an attempt to fuel his own confidence while pumping some needed life into the Smith Center.
“Danny’s been really good for us all year,” head coach Roy Williams said. “[He] hadn’t shot the ball very well the last two or three games, but he was still doing some other good things. I thought he was huge for us.”
Ellington has not suffered through many poor shooting nights this season, but it only takes one off-night in March for a top-ranked team to meet its demise, which is why it’s essential for North Carolina to find a secondary option for the Philadelphia sharpshooter. But the sophomore has found other ways to contribute to this year’s version of the Tar Heels.
“Wayne was 2-for-10, but I told him last year I would have taken him out if he was shooting like that because his defensive play wasn’t very good, but he’s so much better defensively this that it allows me to keep him in,” Williams said. “He had six assists and zero turnovers – that allows you to keep a guy in, too.”
North Carolina appeared to be well on the way to another 30-point blowout with a 19-2 spurt in the opening nine minutes, capitalizing on a transition offense that Valpo wasn’t prepared to defend. It also did not help that the Crusaders were connecting on just 7.1 percent of their field goal attempts during that stretch. But Valpo adjusted in controlling the tempo and in finding open shooters, cutting the Tar Heel lead to 36-31 at halftime with a 5-of-9 three-point shooting display over the final 10 minutes.
Senior guard Jarryd Loyd was the lone bright spot for the Crusaders, connecting on 5-of-7 three-pointers en route to a 24-point performance. Valpo made only 23 of their 64 field goals (9-of-29 on three-pointers) for a 35.4 percentage compared to UNC’s 50.8 field goal percentage on 33-of-65 shooting. North Carolina’s 47-31 rebounding edge did not help head coach Homer Drew’s squad down the stretch, either.
Red-shirt freshman William Graves also put his name into the hat to replace Frasor’s production from outside, connecting on 4-of-5 attempts from long range to finish with a career-high 14 points in eight minutes of action.