With Tyler Hansbrough dominating inside and Tywon Lawson dazzling again in transition, the Tar Heels (12-0) showed minimal offensive rust coming off their week-long holiday break. Hansbrough led Carolina scorers with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Lawson added 19 points and 6 assists while logging his third game of the season without a turnover.
With a lineup mostly of freshmen and sophomores, Rutgers never seriously threatened the veteran-laden Tar Heels. But the Scarlet Knights kept in shouting distance for much of the night, led by freshman McDonald’s All-American Mike Rosario’s 26 points.
The visitors shot 51.7 percent in the first half before cooling off in the second, and four Rutgers players finished with double-digit scoring. It was the third straight game Carolina allowed an opponent to shoot better than 45 percent, having held two of the three previous opponents to less than 40 percent.
Roy Williams pointed to the lack of practice time since the exam break as the biggest culprit in softening the Tar Heels’ defensive intensity. “We’ve gone ten days and had two practices,” he said. “I practically had to reintroduce myself to the players."
Lawson said it’s clear where the Tar Heels will be focusing their practice energies in the week before opening the ACC season against Boston College -- perhaps without the rims.
“We’ve been slacking on defense the last couple of games,” Lawson admitted. “The coaches talked about how we’re going to be working on that a lot more.”
As long as the Heels are scoring at their current pace, however, it will be hard for most teams to keep up. Though UNC failed to break the 100-point barrier, they became the first team in school history to win twelve straight games by double-digits.
It was just another night at the office for Hansbrough -- provided the office is staffed entirely by all-time greats. The superlative senior passed another milestone with his 1000th career rebound off a Will Graves air ball at the 9:57 mark of the second half. And his final point of the night came on his 800th career free throw made, as Hansbrough became one of only seven players in NCAA history to hit that threshold.
“It means a lot,” Hansbrough said of the records, singling out the rebounding mark as the one that gives him the most pleasure. “Rebounding is as tough as anything. It’s a lot of effort.”
Hansbrough also continued his torrid scoring pace, hitting his first five baskets on his way to a 10-of-15 shooting night. Danny Green, meanwhile, pitched in 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Deon Thompson added 10 points.
Despite the Tar Heels’ scoring onslaught, Fred Hill’s team kept its poise to the end, its speedy and aggressive guards giving Carolina’s defenders fits. Rutgers closed to within 32-28 with 7:56 left in the first half.
But an Ed Davis block and eye-popping layup in transition by Lawson helped spark a 20-6 run over the next five minutes. Carolina led 52-38 at the half, and Rutgers never got any closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
The first half was also highlighted by the season’s first appearance for Marcus Ginyard. Ginyard entered the game to an ovation rivaling the one that greeted Tyler Hansbrough’s record-setting basket against Evansville. In 11 minutes, Ginyard finished with three points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals -- exactly the sort of do-it-all performance that’s made his early-season absence notable.
“It felt great,” Ginyard said. “It was exciting to get back out on the court. I’m just trying to work my way back in. I got a little tired out there, but hopefully that will come as I get more involved.”
“It was good to see him out there and play a little bit, get a basket, see him move out there,” Green noted. “He gives us another threat and helps pick us up, especially on the defensive end, where I think we need it most.”
Ginyard’s contribution might not have been necessary against a Rutgers team that was clearly outmatched in the talent category. But with ACC play just days away and a likely top-10 road matchup against Wake Forest looming on January 11, the timing of his return couldn’t be much better.
“When he comes back, I think we’re going to get that much tougher,” Green said.