CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—Tyler Hansbrough was all alone grabbing a rebound in the layup line before the game when he slipped and fell.
It was about the only time he failed Tuesday night.
Hansbrough scored 29 points and No. 2 North Carolina pulled away in the second half to beat pesky Sacred Heart 103-81 in the opening round of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Hansbrough, the leading vote getter on The Associated Press preseason All-America team, hit 11-of-14 shots and routinely scored over double teams for the Tar Heels (1-0), who advanced to play on Wednesday against Winthrop, which beat Iona 57-38 in the late game.
But Hansbrough was still red in the face over his pregame blunder.
“I got a rebound, someone had shot a layup, and my shoelace had a big loop in it,” Hansbrough said. “My other foot went right into that loop and I took a fall. I stayed there for a second to see if anyone had seen me. But then everybody was laughing. I got up and couldn’t play it off.”
But then coach Roy Williams cut him off.
“He didn’t fall too many times when he was on the court,” Williams said.
Reyshawn Terry scored all 18 of his points in the second half, while freshmen Brandan Wright, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson scored 10 points apiece for North Carolina, which shot 59 percent to improve to 85-12 in season openers.
Luke Granato hit eight 3-pointers and scored 24 points and Drew Shubik added 13 for the Pioneers (0-2), who stayed with the Tar Heels for a half despite being undermanned down low.
North Carolina opened the season with high expectations as it returned four starters from last year’s 23-win team, but also had one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.
Two of North Carolina’s McDonald’s All-American trio, Ellington and Wright, started and the third, Lawson saw significant time backing up point guard Bobby Frasor.
“I think Brandan and Wayne have really picked things up more quickly than the other guys,” Williams said. “Ty is going to be fine. He adds an extra dimension that others don’t have with that speed, but he hasn’t learned as quickly as the others. I was ranting and raving at him tonight because twice in a row he didn’t box out.”
Sacred Heart hit 6-of-13 3-pointers in the first half, including Tavio Hobson’s 3 at the buzzer, to cut North Carolina’s lead to 42-37 even though Hansbrough was 8-for-8 from the field.
Shubik’s 3 to start the second half cut the deficit to two and Sacred Heart, in its sixth season in Division I, was thinking big.
“Coach always tells us the impossible happens every day. You can’t believe this team beat that team,” Shubik said. “It got the team pumped up, but…”
Shubik’s voice trailed off because the Tar Heels responded with a 19-5 run to take control by dumping the ball inside to Hansbrough.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore kept muscling his way through multiple defenders, and when he wasn’t scoring he was getting fouled, where he made 7-of-12 free throws. After one made basket that resulted in a 3-point play, Sacred Heart’s Liam Potter was left holding his arms up in the air in disbelief.
Terry then made three straight baskets—the last two thunderous dunks—to get the pro-North Carolina crowd on its feet and Sacred Heart’s upset chances were over.
“I think it’s hard on the players. Losing doesn’t help you,” said Pioneers coach Dave Bike, who lost starting forward Ryon Howard to a knee injury. “I do think for the university, we put on a good show. The best thing it probably does is if we’re fortunate enough to improve and make the NCAA tournament, we’ve already played an NCAA tournament team.”
The Tar Heels led by as many as 25 points late and Williams got to work on his intended fast-break style as 14 players saw time.
“They know what to do, but they have to build habits,” Williams said of his young players. “In high school they were so much quicker and athletic and they could loaf a little defensively. At this level they are playing guys just as quick. They have to keep practicing.”