Tyler Hansbrough figures to have plenty of support on Friday, even though he’s playing for visiting North Carolina.
The second-ranked Tar Heels put their six-game winning streak on the line when they return to Hansbrough’s home state to face Saint Louis.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore grew up in Poplar Bluff, Mo., about 2 hours and 15 minutes south of St. Louis, where he led his high school team to consecutive state championships.
He moved on to North Carolina, was named ACC freshman of the year in 2005-06 and is third in the conference in scoring (19.0) and fourth in rebounding (7.6) this season.
“It was one of those games I was really looking forward to,” said Hansbrough, who’s scored in double figures in 38 of 41 games at North Carolina. “A lot of people from my hometown have been talking about it and are really excited and are going to make the drive.
“It’s just a special game for me, one of those games where I’m going to have to concentrate on the game (and not) the outside things with friends being there, and family and things.”
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams captured his only national championship in St. Louis in 2005, the same year Hansbrough finished his career at Poplar Bluff. While there may be distractions, Williams said they aren’t likely to affect Hansbrough’s focus.
“He has tunnel vision at times, which is OK,” Williams said. “He does one thing better than anybody I’ve ever been around—he focuses on the goal. Other guys go up thinking about getting fouled and miss the shot. He goes up focused on the goal and where he wants to put the ball and scoring the basket, and if he gets fouled, that’s a byproduct of it.”
After beating high-profile teams Tennessee, Ohio State and Kentucky to start the winning streak, North Carolina (9-1) has defeated its last three opponents by an average of just over 36 points.
The Tar Heels led by a school-record 47 points at halftime against Florida Atlantic on Tuesday and finished with a 105-52 win. North Carolina shot 74.1 percent in the first half and finished the game at 66.1, its highest since shooting 71.1 percent against North Carolina State on Jan. 8, 2000.
“I loved our intensity in the first half, I loved our attention to detail and I loved just about everything we did,” Williams said.
North Carolina is playing its first true road game of the season. The Tar Heels are 3-1 in neutral-site games, all part of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
The Billikens (9-2) are 5-0 at home this season and have won four straight overall to get off to their best start since 1994-95, when they also opened 9-2 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Ian Vouyoukas gave Brad Soderberg his 200th career coaching victory when he hit a last-second tip-in to beat Missouri State 51-50 on Monday.
Saint Louis got three shots off in the final 11 seconds and Vouyoukas’ tip-in was originally ruled after the buzzer before video replay showed it went through with one-tenth of a second to go.
“I was thinking, ‘This would be a heartbreaker,”’ Soderberg said. “I was really getting ready for that. Then I just fell on the press table. What a thrill.”
The Billikens have won their first five home games for the first time since 1998-99. Since the Scottrade Center opened in 1994-95, Saint Louis is 67-21 against non-conference opponents.
North Carolina beat Saint Louis 75-63 at home last season and leads the all-time series 2-1. The Billikens’ lone win came in 1959.