CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—North Carolina coach Roy Williams finally saw what he was looking for from the Tar Heels in the second half Wednesday night against Winthrop.
Tyler Hansbrough had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 2 North Carolina rallied to beat Winthrop 73-66 in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
“When somebody hits you, you have a decision to make,” Williams said. “We have to have some toughness and we had no toughness in the first half.”
Wayne Ellington added 13 points and Brandan Wright scored 12 for the Tar Heels, who overcame 25 points from the Eagles’ Torrell Martin to advance to the semifinals next week in New York against Gonzaga.
Williams watched in disbelief in the first half as Winthrop hit open 3-pointers, grabbed nearly every loose ball and built a 12-point lead.
“We were walking around letting people kick our butts and it wasn’t making any difference to us,” Williams said. “It was a sorry attitude we had at that point.”
North Carolina (2-0), down nine with under 17 minutes to play, went to their highly regarded freshmen class to come back. Ellington’s back-to-back buckets inside and Ty Lawson’s 3-pointer in a 9-0 run tied it at 45.
North Carolina took its first lead of the second half on Bobby Frasor’s layup with 9:55 left, in part thanks to picking up the intensity on defense, an area Williams has been critical of since practice began.
The freshmen trio of Wright, Lawson and Ellington scored consecutive baskets and Hansbrough, a sophomore, put it away with consecutive dunks, the second coming off a Winthrop turnover, to go ahead 65-55 with under 3 minutes left.
Martin, who hit six of eight 3-pointers in the first half, made just 1-of-7 after halftime, with Marcus Ginyard clamping down on him on the perimeter.
“He looked real comfortable out there, shooting 3s and grabbing rebounds,” Ginyard said. “I tried to take him out of his comfort zone and get a little closer to him. I could tell he was getting a little frustrated and I tried to stay in his head.”
Michael Jenkins had 15 points and Craig Bradshaw fought through calf and thumb injuries to score 14 for Winthrop (2-1), which committed 18 turnovers.
“Physically, I think we wore down a little bit, but I was going with the prime-time players,” Eagles coach Gregg Marshall said. “We have to develop some depth.”
With Martin’s hot shooting early, the Eagles appeared poised to pull off another win against a major conference opponent. Winthrop, which returned four starters from last year’s team that lost on a last-second shot to No. 2 seed Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tournament, has beaten Marquette, Providence, Georgia, Clemson and Missouri in recent years.
But a win against the Tar Heels would have gone to the top of the list of regular-season accomplishments for Marshall, who accepted the College of Charleston coaching job over the summer only to change his mind the next day.
“We had the No. 2 team on the ropes,” guard Chris Gaynor said. “We have some veterans and we didn’t close it out.”
Martin, the preseason player of the year in the Big South, hit his first four 3-pointers to give Winthrop a 19-17 lead.
The senior, who had been battling a stomach virus that forced him to get an IV at halftime of Tuesday’s win over Iona, hit two more 3s sandwiched between a one-handed dunk to help the Eagles build a 34-26 advantage.
“I always seem to feel hot every time I’m on the court, whether I am or not,” Martin said. “But I came out in the second half cold.”
The Tar Heels, who committed 14 first-half turnovers, appeared rattled by Winthrop’s pressure defense. The Eagles repeatedly sent an extra defender to Hansbrough’s blind side, which twice led to turnovers.
Winthrop’s lead ballooned to 38-26 on Taj McCullough’s jumper with 2:45 left.
But the Tar Heels committed only three turnovers in the second half.
“(Lawson) was just awful in the first half,” Williams said. “In the second half he got much more in control. He didn’t have a turnover after five in the first half.”