The 2007-08 National Player of the Year watched intently from the sideline for the first time in his celebrated career in Chapel Hill, decked out in a dark suit and Carolina blue tie. Hansbrough has been held out of practice since Oct. 28 with a stress reaction in his right shin, and head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference that his All-American will be reevaluated by the training staff on Tuesday.
Without Hansbrough clogging up the paint, North Carolina struggled to find a rhythm early, falling behind the Braves 8-2 after missing five of its first six shots and committing three turnovers in the first 128 seconds of play. The Tar Heels only led 20-19 midway through the first half, but used a 17-0 run to build a 44-25 halftime margin and blow the game open.
“We got better as the game went along, and I think we got better defensively as the game went along,” Williams said. “I’d like to get more out of our break. We had so many opportunities in the first half and the second half that we had the break situations, but didn’t come up with any points out of it.”
With Danny Green (16 points, 4 assists) starting in place of the injured Marcus Ginyard (broken left foot) and freshman 7-footer Tyler Zeller (13 pts, 6 rebounds) serving in Hansbrough’s role, the Tar Heels were missing the intensity that’s become synonymous with the Poplar Bluff, Mo. product.
"You can tell in practice – we just play differently when he's not there," said senior guard Bobby Frasor, who added nine points and two steals. "He posts up a lot harder than some of the guys on the team and guys in the country, so it's easy to throw the ball into him and he's going to make a play. ... If we're going to be without him, we just have to find someone else to step up and get rebounds."
UNC Pembroke’s tallest starter stood at 6-foot-5, but North Carolina only managed a 44-37 rebounding edge.
“Rebounding is a big key for us, because we’re missing two guys that rebounded very well for us,” Green said. “It’s a big loss for us. So just rebound the ball and Coach wants us to run more, and then on the defensive end, just picking up the slack.”
The Tar Heels shot a blistering 64.5 percent (20-of-31) in the second half, lifting their overall shooting mark for the game to 53.0 (35-of-66). Wayne Ellington (16 pts, 5 rebs), Ty Lawson (14 pts, 6 steals), Deon Thompson (14 pts, 10 rebs) and Ed Davis (12 pts, 6 rebs) also scored in double figures, and Larry Drew added six assists and four steals.
UNC Pembroke shot 33.8 percent (23-of-68) on the night, committing 29 turnovers along the way.
North Carolina connected on 10 of its 21 3-point field goal attempts – Frasor, Ellington and Green each drained three from long range – thanks in part to the Braves playing a zone defense.
“I loved the fact that they played a lot of zone,” Williams said. “It gave us some experience working in our zone offense. It’s hard to work on your zone offense when the coach doesn’t have a zone to put in to work against, so these kinds of games are good for us in that area.”
North Carolina opens its season next Saturday against Penn, with or without Hansbrough.