Roy Williams employed a team approach in commencing UNC’s Senior Night festivities, sending all seven seniors onto the floor – Hansbrough, Danny Green, Bobby Frasor, Michael Copeland, Jack Wooten, J.B. Tanner and Patrick Moody – before the opening tip.
“It was hard before the game not to get a little emotional when they were announcing us at halfcourt with all of the seniors you came in with, especially Marcus [Ginyard], too,” Frasor said. “It’s been a great ride. This day has been awesome.”
As it turned out, that attitude carried over to the 227th edition of this famed rivalry. The Tar Heels (27-3, 13-3 ACC) received countless contributions from various players as two early second-half spurts – 7-0 and 7-1 – moved North Carolina into a comfortable working margin that the Blue Devils (25-6, 11-5 ACC) were never able to overcome.
Hansbrough’s 17 points and eight rebounds, as well as Ty Lawson’s near triple-double with 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, were the catalysts for UNC, which connected on 52.8 percent (28-of-53) of its field goals attempts on the night. For the seventh time in eight outings, Duke allowed its opponent to shoot better than 48.0 percent from the floor.
Lawson solidified his position as the front-runner for ACC Player of the Year, despite being a gametime decision after stubbing his right big toe in practice on Friday and missing practice on Saturday. In the final five minutes of action, the junior point guard scored five points, grabbed two rebounds and dished out three assists.
“Ty stepped up and showed some toughness by even playing,” Hansbrough said. “He came through for us in the clutch when we needed him. He wasn’t 100 percent, but when the time was called for him to step up and make big plays, he did.”
For the regular season, Lawson finishes with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.32, which is the No. 1 all-time single-season mark at UNC and the third-best in ACC history.
Hansbrough seemed destined to add to his resume on Senior Night, and the All-American accomplished that feat in the first 10 minutes, draining two 3-pointers in a game for the first time in his career. The senior forward averaged 21.3 points in 62 career home outings.
But while Hansbrough and Lawson provided the leading roles for the Tar Heels, their teammates delivered strong performances in support. Green (12 points, four points) hounded Gerald Henderson into a 14-point, five-turnover outing, setting the tone early by stripping the junior wing on a drive to the basket just two minutes in.
Wayne Ellington (16 points) and Deon Thompson (14 points, five rebounds) both provided essential scoring options with double-digit point totals, while Frasor’s efforts far surpassed his stat line of three points and one steal in 17 minutes.
The senior guard, beset with various injuries over the past two seasons, made two crucial defensive plays in the second half to halt Duke attempts at cutting into North Carolina’s lead. With the Tar Heels leading 55-51, a turnover supplied the Blue Devils with a 4-on-2 fast break opportunity. Kyle Singler (23 points, six rebounds) chose to take the ball to the basket instead of passing to a teammate, but Frasor drew a charge and UNC increased its lead back to six on its ensuing possession.
And then after Lawson drove around Jon Scheyer (24 points, five assists) for a score and plus-one to give North Carolina a 76-69 lead with 1:03 left, Henderson attempted to take advantage of a mismatch with Hansbrough by driving around the reigning national player of the year down the right side of the paint. But Frasor stepped in from his help-side position, tying Henderson up and giving UNC the ball back, which all but clinched the Tar Heels’ sixth win in seven meetings with the Blue Devils.
“He does so many things for us defensively,” Williams said of Frasor.
With the victory, North Carolina won its 27th ACC regular-season championship and the 17th outright title. The Tar Heels will be the No. 1 seed in next weekend’s ACC Tournament for the fourth time in five years, and is likely a lock for a third-straight No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in two weeks.
And although this game never really seemed to be in question once UNC built a 55-48 lead with 12:44 remaining in regulation, Duke’s early hot hand troubled the sellout crowd of 21,750 at the Smith Center.
The Tar Heel defense provided a near mirror image to what occurred at Cameron Indoor 25 days ago, allowing the Blue Devils to drain 11 of its first 18 shots (61.1 percent), including five of their first nine 3-point attempts, in building a 33-30 lead – and eventual 39-38 halftime margin – during the opening 14 minutes of play. But North Carolina’s defense stiffened over the final 26 minutes, holding Duke to 34.4 percent (11-of-32).
“We really had a hard time guarding them, particularly in the first half,” Williams said. “In the second half, we got a little bit better and they also missed some shots.”
The Blue Devils managed to shoot 44.0 percent (22-of-50) for the game, and were manhandled on the boards, 37-22.
In the Feb. 11 meeting between these two programs, Duke shot 61.8 percent in the first half, before being held to 36.1 percent after intermission.
North Carolina's senior class finished its Smith Center career with a home mark of 57-8, including 44-4 over the last three years, 28-3 over the last two years and 14-1 this season.
“This team will always be one thing with me – a team with ability, yes, but great character and we’re great characters,” a teary-eyed Williams said. “I have a hard time being around our team without laughing. And I have a hard time being around this team without realizing how lucky I am.”