North Carolina is off to its best start in 10 seasons, but its fans in Chapel Hill haven’t had a chance to enjoy it in person for nearly a month.
After playing six straight games away from the Smith Center, the undefeated and top-ranked Tar Heels make their homecoming Wednesday when they host Nicholls State in the first of five straight home games leading up to the beginning of ACC play.
North Carolina (9-0)—ranked No. 1 since the preseason—is off to their best start since the 1997-98 season, when it started 17-0 and reached the Final Four.
But that team played five of its first six games at home, while the current Tar Heels had just two of their first nine in Chapel Hill. Since beating South Carolina State 110-64 in their last home game on Nov. 20, the Tar Heels won six games in five different states, including wins at Ohio State and Kentucky, with each victory by at least nine points.
On Sunday, they won 93-71 at Rutgers as point guard Ty Lawson had a career-high 26 points and forward Tyler Hansbrough had 20 and 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.
“Ty’s a jet for us,” Hansbrough said. “He kept us going tonight and played real well.”
Hansbrough suffered a concussion after hitting his head on a cameraman’s knee while trying to take a charge late in the second half, but was listed as probable for this game.
“I took a pretty good blow when I fell but I’m feeling better,” Hansbrough said after the game. “The cameraman was sitting close to the floor and I fell back into him.”
Hansbrough—the preseason national player of the year—has lived up to his billing, averaging a career-high 21.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, both in the top 25 nationally. He’s shooting 52.6 percent from the field and has grabbed 42 of his 88 rebounds on the offensive end.
Wayne Ellington (16.9 ppg) is North Carolina’s second-leading scorer, but is coming off his worst shooting night of the season. He had 13 points but was just 5-of-17 from the field against Rutgers, and Ellington is shooting just 34.0 percent (16-for-47) in his last three games.
In that same span, reserve Danny Green has averaged 17.0 points on 73.3 percent shooting (22-of-30).
North Carolina has averaged 108.5 points in its two wins. The trip to Chapel Hill presents a difficult challenge for Nicholls State (4-7), which played its last game at a Louisiana high school gym while their own was being used for the school’s fall commencement.
In that game, they beat Lipscomb 72-60 for their third win in four games after a 1-6 start. Five players scored in double figures for the Colonels, led by reserve Gil Verner, who had 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
Michael Czepil, a 6-foot-2 guard averaging 11.6 points, and Ryan Bathie, a 6-foot-6 forward scoring 11.5, lead the Colonels offensively. Czepil and Bathie are among five Australian players on Nicholls State’s roster.
Nicholls State has already played eight road games, going 1-7, and figures to have a difficult time matching up with Hansbrough on the boards. The Colonels’ tallest starter is 6-foot-7, and no one on the team averages more than 4.5 rebounds.
The Colonels have lost nine straight games—all on the road—to Top 25 opponents since the start of the 1998-99 season.
This is the teams’ first meeting.