CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—Roy Williams’ talented youngsters are growing up quickly.
Brandan Wright had 19 points and fellow rookie Wayne Ellington scored 17 to help No. 2 North Carolina beat Rutgers 87-48 Thursday night, giving the Tar Heels their eighth straight win behind another strong performance from their freshmen.
In addition to Wright and Ellington, the Tar Heels (11-1) got a stellar floor game from point guard Ty Lawson and contributions from forwards Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson. The freshman quintet combined for 55 points, outscoring the undermanned Scarlet Knights (6-6) while providing the latest glimpse at the potential that surrounds preseason All-American Tyler Hansbrough inside.
“When we came in, we knew expectations were already high,” Wright said. “But us guys, we didn’t listen to the hype. We just came in and worked hard. We’ve really come a long way since Day 1.”
Hansbrough added 13 points for the Tar Heels, who led by 14 points at the break and steadily increased that to as many as 43 points late. But, unlike last year, the Tar Heels don’t have to rely on big nights from Hansbrough to have a chance to win anymore.
“Everybody knew it would be a little bit of time for them to get into things, especially being thrown out there from the start,” sophomore Marcus Ginyard said of the freshmen. “But I think everybody’s starting really to just get comfortable and the team’s coming together very well.”
Wright has been a steady performer all season, scoring in double figures every game to rank second to Hansbrough at 15.7 points per game. The 6-foot-9 forward continued his strong season by going 8-for-10 from the floor with seven rebounds and three blocks in 24 minutes.
Ellington, a 6-4 guard, bounced back from a 1-for-7 shooting day against St. Louis by hitting five of six 3-pointers.
Lawson’s performance was probably most encouraging. The 5-11 speedster finished with six points and nine assists with no turnovers, marking his fourth straight game with at least eight assists.
Since taking over the starting role from injured sophomore Bobby Frasor, Lawson has 51 assists and 10 turnovers in seven games while playing what his coach said is the most difficult position for a freshman to play.
“It’s real demanding,” Lawson said. “It goes through me. (Williams) wants me to call the defense, call the offense, pressure the ball. He just wants me to be a little Roy Williams on the court.”
In addition, Thompson (seven points) and Stepheson (six points) provided a boost off the bench. That certainly eased the burden on Hansbrough, who went 5-for-13 in 29 minutes.
Adrian Hill scored 13 points to lead the Scarlet Knights, who played without leading scorer J.R. Inman and fellow starter Anthony Farmer. Both were serving one-game suspensions for academic reasons, forcing coach Fred Hill to play a deliberate offense to slow the Tar Heels.
The plan worked early, with the Tar Heels fighting their way to a 33-19 lead at the break. But North Carolina opened the second half on a 23-9 run—which included three 3s from Ellington—to take a 56-28 lead on a 3 from Danny Green with about 12 1/2 minutes left.
“We knew we had to control the tempo,” Hill said. “We came up with a way that gave us the best chance to win the game. They can get up and down the floor and hang 100 on anybody. In the second half, they wore us down.”
North Carolina shot 65 percent in the second half and finished with 27 assists against 11 turnovers.
Rutgers shot 36 percent for the game, including 8-for-28 in the first half. The Tar Heels also converted 18 turnovers by the Scarlet Knights into 23 points.