Tyler Hansbrough has a long-standing career scoring record to break and possibly a speech to make.
The reigning national player of the year, however, will relish turning his attention elsewhere should he surpass the record in Thursday’s game for top-ranked North Carolina (9-0) against visiting Evansville (7-1).
Hansbrough sits nine points away from Phil Ford’s school mark of 2,290, established 30 years ago. If the senior forward reaches double figures for the 108th time in 114 career games, the school will pause for a presentation with coach Roy Williams and Ford. The two will hand Hansbrough the game ball, and the school will show a video montage from his career afterward.
The three-time All-American could also give a speech to the Smith Center crowd, depending on his nerves.
“I’m going to have to plan something,” Hansbrough said. “Everybody wants to talk about the scoring record, which is a pretty good accomplishment. But once it is over, I’ll be glad to focus on some other things.”
One of those things could be to remain healthy. A start in Thursday’s game would mark his third in a row, a first this season.
Hansbrough has missed four games - two with a shin injury and two more with ankle problems. He also endured a collision with the broadcast table in Saturday’s 100-84 victory over Oral Roberts, finishing with 26 points despite playing with a small cut on his left knee that required two stitches.
In staying relatively healthy for three of the past four games, the senior forward has seemed to get back into his old rhythm, scoring 28.3 points per contest to improve his season average to a team-leading 22.8. Hansbrough totaled 29 points in his first two games this season.
Playing with or without Hansbrough has seemed to matter little for North Carolina, which has won its games by an average of 28.7 points—none by fewer than 15.
Though his team led by double digits for most of Saturday’s victory, Williams expressed displeasure with parts of the performance, namely giving up 50 points in the second half. The Tar Heels also were outrebounded for the second time this season, surrendering a season-high 43.
“We were not sharp at all,” Williams said. “I’ve been pleased with what we’ve done, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. But not (Saturday).”
North Carolina did score at least 98 points for the sixth straight game and ranks second in the country with 97.3 per game this season.
The Tar Heels are facing an Evansville team which has been successful thanks to its defense, holding opponents to 59.3 points per game and 39.8 percent from the field.
The Purple Aces, off to their best start since the 1981-82 season, won their fourth straight Saturday as they limited Western Kentucky to 26.7 percent shooting in a 72-40 victory. Their most lopsided win of the season was particularly impressive because it came against a Hilltoppers team which entered with a four-game winning streak during which it beat then-No. 3 Louisville.
However, Evansville has not faced a major conference team and lost its only road game, 75-59 at Butler on Nov. 29.
For the second straight season, swingman Shy Ely leads the team in scoring, averaging a career-high 16.1 points. Fellow senior Jason Holsinger adds 13.6 points per game and has made 19 of the team’s 30 3-pointers.
Ely and Holsinger are among five returning starters from last season’s 9-21 squad, but Evansville still has eight underclassmen on its 13-man roster.
The Tar Heels and Purple Aces have never met, but Evansville has faced the nation’s No. 1 team two other times, losing at Ohio State in 1961 and at DePaul in 1980.