“The toughness of our team – I could not be prouder of them than I am right now,” said head coach Roy Williams after his team played the final 36 minutes of Sunday’s contest without Lawson, who suffered a left high ankle sprain when FSU’s Ryan Reid pulled him to the ground during a loose ball situation.
After struggling with getting the ball in odd positions and missing his first five shots in the first half, Hansbrough focused more on posting up in the paint after his squad built a 31-29 lead at the break. The change in strategy worked, as the junior forward connected on five of his last nine field goals.
“It was an adjustment for me, just because with Ty’s penetration, I always know when to clear… Ty always finds me. It was a change, but Quentin stepped up also, so it helped,” said Hansbrough, who also shot 12-of-14 from the free throw line, making the Poplar Bluff, Mo. the top charity stripe scorer in the UNC history (613 points). His 20/20 game was the first since Sean May scored 26 points and hauled in 24 rebounds in a 75-73 victory against Duke on Mar.6, 2005.
North Carolina (21-1, 6-1 ACC) held a 66-58 lead with 2:39 remaining in regulation, but Jason Rich (22 points) kept his team close and Isaiah Swann (12 points) and Toney Douglas (12 points, four rebounds) hit some big shots down the stretch to cut the margin to 67-64 with seven seconds left. That’s when Reid (five points) drilled his first 3-pointer of the season from the left corner to force overtime.
The Seminoles (13-10, 2-6) missed seven of their eight field goal attempts in overtime, however, as the Tar Heels connected on ten of their 12 free throw shots during the extra session to close out the victory.
Thomas struggled mightily in an overtime victory at Clemson just four weeks ago, turning the ball over three times in just eight minutes. But the Oakland, Calif. senior responded admirably on Sunday, scoring a career-high nine points, dishing out six assists and grabbing five rebounds to only two turnovers in 36 minutes of action.
“Quentin Thomas has had a four-year career, and every time he turns around, he’s had a hand, a knee, a wrist or an ankle [injury], and for him to be able to step up and do as well as he did today was huge for us,” Williams said.
But the lone senior Tar Heel attributed his success to his team’s ability to deal with adversity throughout the course of the season.
“Bobby [Frasor] got hurt unfortunately, and we had to pull together with that, and then Ty got hurt today, so this team keeps molding together, closer and closer, so that really helps us,” Thomas said.
North Carolina dominated the boards at the Tucker Center, pulling down 54 to Florida State’s 26. That margin helped offset a season-high 21 turnovers for the Tar Heels, who struggled without Lawson directing the offense.
Continued improvement on the defensive end of the floor also helped in UNC winning its sixth ACC contest of the season, as the Seminoles were held to 40 percent on 28-of-70 shooting. The Tar Heels shot 42.6 percent (26-of-61), thanks in part to junior wing Danny Green’s 19 points on 7-of-15 field goal attempts.
No. 3 Duke rolls into Chapel Hill on Wednesday night for another installment in arguably the best college basketball rivalry in the country, but Sunday afternoon’s game was vital for the Tar Heels, not just in staying within striking distance of the Blue Devils in the conference standings, but also in proving that they can overcome the obstacles put in their path.
“Everybody stepped up – Danny, [Quentin], Tyler,” said Lawson, who will not practice until Tuesday to test his ankle for Wednesday’s showdown. “Everybody stepped up, so it’s going to take a lot for us to lose a game like that through injuries and things like that.”