“I guess you should expect it – in the last nine days we’ve had two practices and taken 400 exams or whatever it is that they have to take,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “But I wasn’t pleased at all with what we did on the backboards. I wasn’t pleased with our defense. It’s just that we were more gifted. That’s the bottom line.”
Tyler Hansbrough led UNC with 26 points (9-of-18 shooting) and nine rebounds, while Ty Lawson added 18 points and seven assists in North Carolina’s first contest since dismantling Michigan State, 98-63, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It didn’t hurt that the Golden Eagles had played three games since UNC’s win over the Spartans on Dec. 3.
The Tar Heels jumped out to a 29-14 lead behind a career-best half from Deon Thompson, scoring 16 of his 22 points in the first 20 minutes. But guards Robert Jarvis (26 points, 6-of-17 on 3-pointers) and Kyron Stokes (14 points, 3-of-4 on 3-pointers) kept Oral Roberts within striking distance, as North Carolina’s biggest lead on the night was 24 points. UNC led 54-34 at the break.
North Carolina shot 53.6 percent (37-of-69) from the floor – including 59.4 percent in the first half – but coughed up a season-high 16 turnovers as numerous passes were slightly off target.
“The 10-day layoff, being done with finals, and there really wasn’t that much excitement going on before the game,” senior guard Bobby Frasor replied when asked about the cause of the lackluster performance. “We didn’t really have that energy that we need to have. We had some great practices, so I thought we would come out ready to play, but we got up early and just kind of coasted the rest of the game.”
Oral Roberts cut the deficit to 73-59 with 10:45 left in regulation, but a 13-5 Tar Heel run ended any thoughts about a possible comeback. The Golden Eagles connected on 44.6 percent (33-of-74) of their field goal attempts.
Despite North Carolina forcing 25 turnovers, lapses in defensive technique and effort were a common topic of discussion in the postgame interviews.
“We should still come out and play our principles,” Lawson said. “We weren’t even playing the principles right, like rotating and denying and little things like that. So we’ve got to keep working on that throughout the year – you can’t have letdowns like that.”
Hansbrough inched ever closer to Phil Ford’s all-time UNC scoring mark of 2,290 points (1978), as his 26 points brought his career total to 2,282. The senior All-America needs just nine points on Thursday night against Evansville to add another record to his lengthy resume.
Williams indicated that Hansbrough is still not back to 100 percent after battling shin and ankle injuries over the past seven weeks.
“He’s probably the least conditioned that I’ve ever seen the youngster in my entire life,” Williams said. “He’s giving more tired signals… He missed four or five [from] six inches away tonight, and I think a lot of that is not quite having his legs back underneath him yet.”
North Carolina was outrebounded for only the second time this season, as the Golden Eagles grabbed 43 rebounds – including 18 offensive boards – compared to just 36 for UNC. Kentucky also outrebounded the Tar Heels, 37-35, on Nov. 18.
“I told them – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we’ve got to get back and go to work,” Williams said. “I’ve been pleased with what we’ve done, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, but not tonight, so we’ve got to get back to work.”