“I think tonight it was just the fact that Christmas was around the corner and we have such a big break and everybody was thinking about going home,” Hansbrough said. “We talked about staying focused and [said], ‘Let’s get this win first and make sure this is in our mind.’”
Despite playing at Michael Jordan’s former home in the Windy City – complete with a blanket of snow on the ground – the Tar Heels played as though they were already on Christmas break. North Carolina forced errant passes and was impatient on offense early, while also allowing the Crusaders to dictate their tempo on the other end of the floor. Valparaiso capitalized by jumping out to a 12-3 lead.
Bobby Frasor did his part in his homecoming game, knocking down back-to-back three-pointers to cut the margin to three and ignite a 35-13 UNC run to build a 41-31 lead at halftime.
“That first one going in kind of takes all of the pressure off you and you can just play,” said Frasor, who scored eight points on 3-of-7 shooting in 20 minutes of action. “Then the second one went in, and then I think every shot after that I felt like it could have [gone] in. The shot’s feeling good. It’s what I’ve been doing in the gym back at school, so it’s nice to do it in front of my family and friends.”
Valpo’s matchup zone frustrated UNC, forcing the Tar Heels to settle for a season-high 27 three-point attempts, while only connecting on eight of those long-range shots. Seven of North Carolina’s first 10 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc.
Hansbrough’s first shot didn’t occur until nearly nine minutes had passed in the contest, but the senior scored 14 points over the next nine minutes, including eight straight at one point, to put the game firmly in UNC’s control.
“I wasn’t trying to force it early, so I just kept on moving and eventually, I got to open spots and got the ball and made some shots,” said Hansbrough, who passed David Thompson, Jeff Lamp and Mike Gminski to move into the seventh spot on the ACC’s all-time scoring list with 2,327 points.
North Carolina was able to overcome the early nine-point deficit – its largest of the season – by forcing15 turnovers and limiting the Crusaders to just seven assists in the first half. Valpo finished with 25 turnovers and 11 assists, while the Tar Heels dished out 20 assists despite committing 17 turnovers of their own. UNC won the rebounding battle, 34-27.
“We thought we could get them to turn it over because they’re not as experienced at the guard [position],” head coach Roy Williams said during his postgame press conference.
Deon Thompson added 12 points and six rebounds, while Ty Lawson (10 points, five assists) and Wayne Ellington (11 points, five assists) also joined the double-digit crowd. Frasor caught the rim on his final three-point attempt in the final minutes to miss out on his first double-digit outing since scoring 11 points against Gonzaga on Nov. 22, 2006.
Urule Igbavboa and Michael Rogers both scored 16 points for the Crusaders. Valpo knocked down 50 percent of its field goals in the first half before finishing with a 45.7 percentage on 21-of-46 shooting for the game, which marks the third straight opponent to connect on over 44 percent of its attempts against UNC.
“You look down and they shoot 46 percent – we’ve got to be able to create some turnovers and still keep people shooting a lower percentage than that,” Williams said.
The Tar Heels will enjoy their longest break of the season, enjoying nearly a full week off before returning to Chapel Hill for practice on Dec. 26.