CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—Tyler Hansbrough figures there’s only one way to eliminate all the questions about whether North Carolina’s defense is good enough for a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
“I guess we just have to stop talking about it and do it and prove ourselves,” he said. “And then we’ll probably have to talk about how our defense is improved.”
Either way, defense is going to be at the forefront for the Tar Heels as they enter the final weeks of the regular season.
Hansbrough scored 27 points to help the third-ranked Tar Heels beat North Carolina State 89-80 on Wednesday night, giving them their 10th straight victory.
Danny Green added 19 points to help North Carolina (24-2, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) pull away in the second half for its 12th win in 13 meetings with its nearby rival.
North Carolina shot 55 percent for the game, had four players with at least 16 points and scored on nine straight possessions to turn a three-point halftime lead into a comfortable margin. The problem was that the defense wasn’t doing nearly enough to shut down the Wolfpack (14-10, 4-7), who shot 64 percent in the second half and 54 percent in the game.
“That’s one of the first things (coach Roy Williams) said to us, that they shot 64 percent,” junior Wayne Ellington said. “They shot way too high a percentage on us. We outscored them. But when we’re getting into games where teams are just as gifted offensively and can score right with us, we’re not going to win those games. We’ve got to get teams’ percentages down.”
The Tar Heels got a boost with the return of Tyler Zeller, the 7-foot freshman who suffered a broken left wrist late in the win against Kentucky on Nov. 18. He was expected to miss the rest of the year, but recently returned to limited practice before entering the game to a standing ovation with 8:28 left in the first half. He finished with two points and three rebounds in eight minutes.
Javi Gonzalez scored 18 points to lead the Wolfpack, who got as close as six points midway through the second half but down the stretch trailed by 19.
“We came out with good energy and kept ourselves in the ballgame,” coach Sidney Lowe said. “I thought our guys gave a pretty good effort, but we turned it over a couple of times crucially and gave them an opportunity to get out and run on us.”
No. 5 Memphis 90, SMU 47
Shawn Taggart scored 19 points and Doneal Mack added 15 points as host Memphis cruised to its 17th straight win.
Robert Dozier had 14 points, and Tyreke Evans and Antonio Anderson each scored 13 for the Tigers (23-3, 11-0 Conference USA), who extended their winning streak in the conference to 53 games.
Paul McCoy led SMU (7-17, 1-10) with 17 points, while Derek Williams added 11.
Memphis limited SMU to 31 percent (17-for-55).
No. 7 Louisville 94, Providence 76
Terrence Williams had 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds as host Louisville overcame a shaky first half.
Edgar Sosa led the Cardinals (20-5, 11-2 Big East) with 18 points, Samardo Samuels added 17 and Earl Clark had 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Louisville moved into a three-way tie for second place in the conference with No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 10 Marquette behind No. 1 Connecticut.
Jonathan Kale, Sharaud Curry and Weyinmi Efejuku had 15 points each for the Friars (16-10, 8-6), who couldn’t sustain the strong shooting that carried them to a slim halftime lead.
No. 8 Wake Forest 87, Georgia Tech 69
At Winston-Salem, N.C., James Johnson had 24 points and 11 rebounds and No. 8 Wake Forest avenged its worst loss of the season.
Less than three weeks after the Yellow Jackets stunned the Demon Deacons for their only Atlantic Coast Conference win of the season, Wake Forest saw a 23-point lead cut to five before pulling away behind Johnson’s dominance inside.
Jeff Teague added 15 points for Wake Forest (20-4, 7-4), freshman Al-Farouq Aminu scored 14.
Lewis Clinch hit six 3-pointers and scored 24 points and Iman Shumpert added 14 for Georgia Tech (10-15, 1-11), which has lost five straight and 10 of 11.
No. 15 Kansas 72, Iowa St. 55
Cole Aldrich had 22 points and 11 rebounds, helping host 15 Kansas extend the nation’s longest home-winning streak to 38 games.
Sherron Collins added 22 points and six assists for the Jayhawks (21-5, 10-1 Big 12), who overcame 18 mostly-sloppy turnovers to reach 10 conference wins for the 15th straight season. Kansas made up for the offensive lapses with another superb defensive game, holding Iowa State to 32 percent shooting.
Craig Brackens had 20 points and 11 rebounds and Jamie Vanderbeken added 15 points for Iowa State (13-13, 2-9), which fell behind by 17 in the first half and never fully recovered en route to its 14th straight conference road loss.
Penn State 38, No. 18 Illinois 33
Talor Battle made four free throws in the final 16 seconds to lead visiting Penn State in the lowest-scoring NCAA Division I game in more than three years.
Battle finished with 11 points for the Nittany Lions (19-8, 8-6 Big Ten), who committed 13 turnovers and made just 28 percent of their shots.
The 18th-ranked Illini (21-6, 9-5) were no better, shooting 30 percent (15-for-50) and committing 15 turnovers. Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham had seven points each to lead Illinois.
Wis.-Milwaukee 63, No. 21 Butler 60
Avery Smith had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and host Wisconsin-Milwaukee (15-11, 10-6 Horizon League) appeared to benefit from a clock malfunction in the closing seconds.
With 5.9 seconds left, Butler’s Gordon Hayward passed the ball to Willie Veasley behind the baseline and the clock appeared to start prematurely. Veasley passed the ball to Zach Hahn who never got a shot off before time expired.
Officials looked at a replay, but said they couldn’t determine if the clock started early and ruled the game was over. The Bulldogs (22-4, 13-3 ) have consecutive losses for the first time in more than three years—a span of 111 games.
No. 23 LSU 72, Arkansas 69
Marcus Thornton scored 28 points and made a key defensive play in the final minute to help visiting LSU rally past Arkansas.
The Tigers (22-4, 10-1 Southeastern Conference), in the Top 25 this week for the first time in more than two years, trailed by 18 points in the first half, but they used an 11-1 run in the final minutes to win their seventh straight.
Arkansas (13-11, 1-10) was led by Courtney Fortson, who returned from a one-game suspension to score 17 points, all in the second half. Rotnei Clarke also scored 17.