After missing North Carolina’s first two games because of a stress reaction in his right shin, Tyler Hansbrough showed some rust in his season debut. He’s going to need to recover quickly, as Hansbrough’s team is set to play three games in as many days.
The reigning national player of the year looks to build off his opener on Monday when the top-ranked Tar Heels play in the opening round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational against Chaminade, the Division II host school in the eight-team tournament.
Hansbrough had played in all 108 games and missed just one practice in his first three years for North Carolina (3-0), but had practiced just a few times this past week after being held out since the injury was diagnosed in October.
The senior forward warmed up before Friday’s game at UC Santa Barbara, and coach Roy Williams made the decision to start his star 15 minutes before tip-off. Hansbrough wasn’t at his best, as he hit just 2-of-8 shots from the floor, but he made 9-of-10 free throws to finish with 13 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two turnovers, one blocked shot and one steal in 25 minutes in the Tar Heels’ 84-67 victory.
“I’m not in the best shape, but it was good to help out my team,” said Hansbrough, who averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds last season. “I feel a little out of sync. I was just trying to come out and get in the groove.”
His conditioning will be put to the test in this three-day tournament, and Williams isn’t sure how much he’ll play in each game.
“The only person who knows how much pain there is is Tyler,” Williams said. “I guess we’ll all find out about going three straight days.”
Although Hansbrough is not at full strength, and his playing time might be limited in this tournament, his leadership and presence on the court helps his teammates.
“It meant a lot,” Carolina guard Ty Lawson said about having Hansbrough back. “Guarding the post and rebounding and scoring, he does everything.”
Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Deon Thompson have all stepped up their play with Hansbrough recovering from the injury.
Lawson scored a team-high 19 points against the Gauchos, while Ellington had a season-high 17 points and Thompson finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The three look to continue to take some of the pressure of Hansbrough in Hawaii, where Carolina has been successful.
The Tar Heels are 10-2 all-time in this tournament, and have won the last two times they participated in the Maui Invitational—1999-2000 and 2004-05.
Chaminade, meanwhile, has not had the same good fortune in this tournament, as it is 5-65, which includes a win over Princeton in last year’s seventh-place game.
This will be the season opener for the Silverswords, who won their second Pacific West Conference titles in three years last season. However, Chaminade has lost all five starters and the top six scorers from last season’s team, leaving it highly unlikely to duplicate its accomplishment from 26 years ago when it defeated top-ranked Virginia 77-72 on Dec. 12, 1982.
“We get to face the best in college basketball because of hosting this tournament and we will for sure by opening against North Carolina,” Silverswords coach Matt Mahar said.
This will be the first meeting between North Carolina and Chaminade, and the winner will play the winner of the Alabama-Oregon game on Tuesday.