“I think this whole team was miserable for a week following that Maryland game,” Hansbrough told reporters during his postgame interview. “It was frustrating. We didn’t do the things we wanted to defensively or play smart towards the end of the game, but we worked on that in practice.”
The Tar Heels (25-3, 11-3 ACC) paired a 13-0 first-half run with two early second-half spurts – 14-2 and 10-2 – in opening a 70-41 lead over the stinger-less Yellow Jackets (10-17, 1-13 ACC) with 14:07 left to play.
Hansbrough (10-of-13 shooting, 8-of-8 on free throws) scored 18 points in the opening 20 minutes – more than his overall game totals in four of his last five outings – as UNC placed an obvious emphasis on pounding the ball down low from the outset. The All-American and teammate Deon Thompson (10 points) combined for North Carolina’s first 16 points.
Free throw attempts have not come easy for Hansbrough in recent weeks, delaying his ascension to the top of the NCAA record books for career free throw makes. But the Poplar Bluff, Mo. native tied Wake Forest’s Dickie Hemric at 905 with an up-and-under basket and the ensuing visit to the charity stripe to put UNC up 30-25 with 6:43 remaining in the first half.
Hansbrough broke the record – in 208 fewer attempts – nearly 12 minutes later, connecting on two free throws following a foul by Alade Aminu with 14:54 left in regulation. The senior has now made 907 free throws in his career.
“[The record] means a lot,” said Hansbrough, who also grabbed 10 rebounds. “There are some great players up there, and for me to be at that top spot is an honor. But also, it’s a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of fouls involved. It also shows that you have a good free throw percentage, so I’m happy to be there.”
Head coach Roy Williams commended his senior standout on breaking the record following the victory.
“Congratulations to Tyler Hansbrough,” Williams said. “I told the guys in the locker room, ‘That’s not a North Carolina record [and] it’s not an ACC record. That’s a national record, and that’s pretty doggone impressive.’”
After a slow start offensively, the Tar Heels ran through the Georgia Tech defense, connecting on 29 of their final 48 field goal attempts (60.4 percent). Part of that success was due to UNC’s return to sharing the basketball instead of forcing attempts. North Carolina’s 26 assists on the day were a welcome change to the five assists dished out against Maryland.
“We didn’t emphasis just the assists; we emphasized sharing the basketball,” Williams said. “We emphasized the 16 really, really bad shots that we took up at Maryland.”
The sixth-year UNC head coach praised Ty Lawson’s performance, who tied his career-high with 11 assists after handing out just two assists in College Park. The junior point missed all three of his field goal attempts on Saturday, a week after attempting a career-high 20 shots against the Terps.
“We just didn’t go one-on-one – we set more screens,” Lawson said. “Tyler started early, and he gives us a lot of assists when he’s knocking down shots, so we just moved the ball a lot more.”
Danny Green added 18 of his 23 points in the second half, while Wayne Ellington scored 10 points and pulled down seven rebounds.
The Tar Heel defense caved in College Park, allowing the Terrapins to shoot 68.0 percent over the final 20 minutes of action, and the Yellow Jackets continued that trend early on Saturday, knocking down 12 of their first 21 field goals (57.1 percent) in helping to build a 23-22 lead midway through the first half.
But North Carolina held Georgia Tech to only four field goals over the final 9:45 of the half, using a 21-5 spurt to jump out to a 46-33 lead at intermission.
The Yellow Jackets entered Saturday’s contest as the ACC’s worst shooting team in league play, converting just 40.8 percent of their field goals. After the early offensive display against North Carolina, the Ramblin’ Wreck mustered just 39.6 percent (19-of-48) down the stretch.
Lewis Clinch led Georgia Tech with 22 points, while Alade Aminu contributed 19 points and seven rebounds.
North Carolina takes its final ACC road trip of the season on Wednesday, traveling to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech in a 7 p.m. tip that could clinch the Tar Heels a share of the regular season conference title.