North Carolina (26-2, 11-2 ACC) outrebounded the Demon Deacons 38 to 24, and connected on 26 of their 34 free throw shots, while Wake Forest (16-9, 6-6) missed on nine of their 17 attempts.
“[Our] work on the backboards and getting some extra shots was important for us,” said Roy Williams, who won his 550th game as a head coach. “I think every time that we have a chance to throw the ball inside to Tyler [Hansbrough], we need to do that.”
Hansbrough shot 11-of-14 from the line, paving the way for a 29-point, five-rebound, four-steal performance. The junior All-American moved past Duke’s J.J. Redick into third place in ACC history for made free throws (669), behind Duke’s Christian Laettner and Virginia’s Bryant Stith.
Wake Forest utilized various zone schemes to contain Hansbrough in the post, with defenders dropping off other Tar Heels (with the exception of Wayne Ellington) to help defend the National Player of the Year candidate. Not only did that strategy not work, as Ellington (17 points, six rebounds) and Danny Green (15 points, nine rebounds) helped UNC to 56.0 percent shooting (28-of-50) on the night, but North Carolina was still able to get seven-footer Chas McFarland into foul trouble early, holding the sophomore to just 22 minutes.
Even sophomore forward Deon Thompson’s minimal playing time (14 minutes) due to lingering knee and back problems was not enough to help the Deacons overcome UNC’s post dominance.
The foul discrepancy between the two programs was only six (24-18), but when Wake Forest was unable to capitalize on their free throws to cut into a Tar Heel lead that grew to as many as 21 in the second half, frustration became evident on the young Demon Deacons’ faces and in their actions.
“We’ve got to play with a little more emotional maturity on the road,” Wake Forest head coach Dino Gaudio said. “They’re worried about this call a little bit and that call a little bit. We’ve got the best officials in the country – just play. That’s all you’ve got to do.”
Williams was quick to defend his program’s tendency to head to the free throw line more often than its opponents during his postgame press conference.
“[With] our style of play, the other team is going to get in foul trouble,” Williams said. “It’s not just the guys in the striped shirts. We’re going to throw the ball inside. We’re going to attack the basket. We’re not going to shoot three-point shots all of the time, so we’re going to get fouled and we’re going to put the other team in position to be in foul trouble. We have [with] every team I’ve ever coached and every team I ever will.”
Wake Forest’s youth displayed plenty of talent and potential, however, as freshmen James Johnson (22 points, eight rebounds) and Jeff Teague (18 points) used their quickness to penetrate the Tar Heel defense on a regular basis. The Demon Deacons shot the ball nearly as well as the home squad, connecting on 48.3 percent (29-of-60) of their field goal attempts.
“They broke down our defense quite a bit,” Williams said. “We’ve been getting a lot better defensively, but they broke us down a lot more today than we wanted, to say the least.”
Ellington drilled a left corner 3-pointer as time expired in the first half to give North Carolina a comfortable 50-41 working margin. Wake Forest was unable to get within eight points during the remainder of the contest, despite the Tar Heels’ inability to take care of the basketball.
“That’s the thing I’m probably more disappointed in than anything, is to have 17 assists and 20 turnovers,” Williams said. “I don’t think you can have that kind of ratio and be a great team, and that’s what we want to do is be a great team.”
There were no excuses to be found in the Tar Heel locker room, either.
“There’s really no way around it,” said junior wing Marcus Ginyard, who committed six turnovers. “We just didn’t take care of the ball. Whatever situation we’re in, we’ve got to take much better care of the ball.”
North Carolina clinched a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament with Sunday’s victory, and the Tar Heels now have six days to get Thompson and Ty Lawson – who missed his sixth straight game with an ankle sprain – healthy before heading to Boston College to battle the Eagles on Saturday afternoon.