CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP)—It looked almost effortless, like he’s been doing it all his life, and to Tyler Hansbrough, it really was no big deal. Just a player doing his job for one of the best teams in America, fifth-ranked North Carolina.
Hansbrough scored 23 points, including a critical baby hook over Laurynas Mikalauskas with 21 seconds to play Tuesday night, and the Tar Heels once again survived a surprising challenge before holding on in a 75-74 victory over Virginia.
The Tar Heels (23-2, 8-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), coming off a double overtime victory against Clemson on Sunday, got all they could handle from the Cavaliers, who had lost nine of 10 but played nothing like a team in a hopeless free fall.
The Hansbrough made sure they didn’t let it get away, then celebrated the experience gained by the Tar Heels in a string of difficult, down to the wire games.
“It makes us tougher,” the All-American said. He scored just six points in the second half, but all came as Virginia challenged for the tie or lead in the final 5:05. “We know what to do in tough situations. We know where the ball needs to go.”
And, they know that their big guy is likely to come through.
“Shotput, jump-hook, Hansbrough Special, whatever you want to call it,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said of the basket from right of the basket, about 8 feet away.
“That’s Tyler Hansbrough,” Marcus Ginyard added. “You feel like you slow him down, slow him down … but he’s a tough guy to stop. That was definitely the game plan, to get the ball in to him and let him make plays, and when we needed them, he made them.”
Virginia (11-12, 1-9), trying to avoid its first 1-9 start in the league since the 1976-77 season, came up short, but not without its best showing in almost a month.
But being close was of no consolation, coach Dave Leitao said.
“Winners are revered and losers go home,” he said he told his team after its sixth straight loss. “In a tight ball game, like just about every game is in this league, you’re going to have to find a way to get over the hump, and we have not done that.”
Wayne Ellington added 19 points and Deon Thompson 12 for North Carolina, which led for the entire second half, even as the crowd tried to will the Cavaliers to victory.
Sean Singletary scored 27 points to lead the Cavaliers, but several other players made big plays—an element that has been sorely lacking during the big skid.
Virginia got within five several times midway through the half, then kept creeping closer. It was 60-59 with 7:11 left, 63-61 a short time later, and then 71-68 when Virginia had its best chance to pull even, the crowd ecstatic in anticipation.
The Tar Heels got only one missed shot and a turnover in their next two possessions, and Virginia had four looks at a tie, but none of their 3-point tries went down. When Ellington scored inside to lift the Tar Heels lead back to 73-68, Calvin Baker made a 3-pointer for Virginia, pulling them to 73-71 with 51.7 left, but the Tar Heels then turned to Hansbrough, and he came through on the biggest possession.
Just 21 seconds remained, and when Singletary made a 3 with 8.2 seconds to play, the Tar Heels threw the ball to the other end of the court, Ellington was fouled with 2.8 seconds to go. He missed the free throw, but time expired before anyone could gain possession, sending the Cavaliers to their seventh consecutive setback.
The Tar Heels led 38-31 at halftime after ending the period on an 8-0 run in the last 2:24. Hansbrough scored five in the burst and Ellington hit a 3-pointer.
Earlier, North Carolina scored 15 in a row to open a 20-7 lead, but Singletary had seven of his 11 first-half points in a 15-4 Virginia run that put them ahead, 29-28.