North Carolina (14-0) looked sloppy early, committing eight turnovers and allowing the Golden Flashes to shoot 50 percent from the floor (14-of-28), though UNC led 44-32 at halftime. But Williams lit into his squad during the break, and the Tar Heels responded over the final 20 minutes, holding Kent State (10-3) to 32.5 percent (13-of-40) for half and 39.7 percent (27-of-68) for the game.
“I thought we were better defensively in the second half,” Williams said. “In the first half, we turned it over and took a couple of bad shots and all of a sudden, we’re defending in transition the last eight minutes of the half.”
Wayne Ellington provided a perimeter equivalent to Hansbrough’s post dominance with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and speedy Ty Lawson (17 points, seven assists) displayed how difficult he can be to defend when his outside shot is falling. The sophomore point guard forced Kent State to guard him from beyond the arc by knocking down three of his five three-point attempts, which supplied the Clinton, Md. native opportunities to penetrate the lane for easy scores and assists.
“I’ve been on [Ty] the last couple of days in practice and the last game to shoot the outside shot because he really is a good shooter, and he’s been catching the ball and not even thinking about shooting,” Williams said. “I told him he doesn’t have to shoot, but at least put his arm underneath it and make them think he’s going to shoot. That makes the guy come up on him even more, and then he can go by him.”
Hansbrough continued his offensive assault on Wednesday night, outplaying Kent State forward Haminn Quaintance (20 points on 10-of-12 shooting) to post his seventh straight 20-point game and his 11th of the season. The frontrunner for National Player of the Year honors is averaging 22.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest, while connecting on 81.9 percent (113-of-138) of his free throw attempts.
But with that continued success has come increasingly more violent fouls levied against the junior All-American. Hansbrough was fouled hard from behind on a breakaway dunk attempt that sent him sprawling into photographer row – again.
“Never,” Hansbrough said, when asked if he would change his style of play to prevent the hard fouls. “I’ll never do that. That’s the way I play. I’m not going to shy away from anybody. You can put a linebacker out there – I don’t really care.”
This North Carolina squad was loaded with veteran depth to begin the season, but recent injuries and personal issues had cut Williams’ bench down to just eight scholarship players for Wednesday night’s game.
The Tar Heels lost combo guard Bobby Frasor for the season with a torn ACL in last Thursday’s 106-70 victory over Nevada, backup point guard Quentin Thomas did not play for the second consecutive game after tweaking his ankle in Friday’s practice and it was announced Wednesday morning that backup post player Alex Stepheson is out indefinitely while dealing with a family illness back home in California.
“Guys have got to step up,” Ellington said. “[Coach Williams] is giving guys opportunities and we’ve got to step up and play our style of basketball and do what we want to do.”
Junior forward Mike Copeland (eight points, five rebounds in 16 minutes) and red-shirt freshman wing Will Graves (two points, six rebounds in 14 minutes) provided added bodies in their most significant action of the season.
North Carolina used an early 12-0 run to build a 37-19 lead behind Lawson’s 10 points and four steals. Kent State answered with a spurt of their own, however, outscoring the Tar Heels 13-4 to cut the deficit to single digits before Ellington connected on a 30-footer as the buzzer sounded to give UNC the twelve-point halftime lead.
North Carolina begins ACC play when it travels to Clemson to face the 19th-ranked Tigers on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.