NEW YORK (AP)—North Carolina coach Roy Williams was blunt with his team after its latest victory.
“I told them to go home and for Christmas ask for some brains,” Williams said after the second-ranked Tar Heels beat No. 22 Tennessee 101-87 on Friday night in the third-place game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. “One of the parents heard me say that and said, `Good. That doesn’t cost very much.”’
Williams was making small jokes but he obviously wasn’t happy with the way the Tar Heels closed out the win after leading by 21 points at halftime.
“I was really frustrated with the players the way they played the last 20 minutes,” he said. “We caught Tennessee on a night when the ball wouldn’t drop in the hole early. In the second half they made a lot of 3s but we able to score at the other end. Still, we have to be a lot smarter team.”
Williams, whose team had 22 assists and 24 turnovers, then softened the criticism a bit.
“It’s still really early and I’ve got a really young team. Two freshmen, two sophomores and one senior start. It’s a work in progress and I’ve got a lot of talent to work with.”
The brightest of that talent is Tyler Hansbrough, who bounced back from one of the worst games of his college career to score 27 points.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore had nine points—just his second game as a Tar Heel below double figures—on 2-for-5 shooting in the 82-74 loss to Gonzaga in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
On Friday, his teammates consistently got him the ball inside and Hansbrough, a third-team All-America and Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year last season, converted. He also picked up four offensive rebounds. He finished 8-for-18 from the field, 11-for-15 from the free throw line and had nine rebounds.
“This doesn’t make up for anything we felt Wednesday,” Hansbrough said, referring to the loss. “Wednesday I got out of my game. Tonight I was more aggressive.”
So were the Tar Heels’ other big men.
Freshman forward Brandan Wright had 19 points on 9-for-10 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds for the Tar Heels, who finished with a 54-30 advantage on the boards.
“We had a tremendous size advantage and we wanted to go inside,” Williams said. “We have Tyler better opportunities and he made the plays. That’s all he did.”
North Carolina (4-1) led 56-35 at halftime as Hansbrough scored 11 points. The Tar Heels shot 57.9 percent in the opening 20 minutes (22-for-38), a big improvement on their 36.8 effort in the loss to Gonzaga.
JeJuan Smith and Chris Lofton both had 18 points to lead the Volunteers (4-2), who lost 56-44 to Butler in the semifinals.
Smith, a 6-2 guard, was ejected from the game with 12:34 to play when he was called for a flagrant personal foul after pulling down Hansbrough from behind on a fast break. The rule states any “excessive or severe” contact against an airborne player shall result in the flagrant personal, which calls for an automatic ejection.
Tennessee had hit four straight 3-pointers—the last a four-point play by Smith—to get within 70-57 after trailing by as much as 61-38 with 18:42 to go.
“That was a key rallying point,” Tennessee forward Dane Bradshaw said. “He plays with that kind of chip on his shoulder. He’s not going to back down to anybody, not in Madison Square Garden against North Carolina. I felt bad for him because he had no control after that just sitting in the locker room.”
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said Smith “played his guts out.”
“That hurt our chances to come back,” he said.
The Tar Heels went inside early and often. Hansbrough, who averaged 18.8 points and 7.8 rebounds last season when he was a unanimous selection to the all-ACC first team, passed his point total from the semifinal loss seven minutes into the game.
All the North Carolina big men were having success inside and it kept up throughout as the Tar Heels shot 55.6 percent (35-for-63). When Tennessee tried to double-team Hansbrough inside, the Tar Heels were able to convert from long range as well, finishing 6-for-11 from 3-point range.
Tennessee’ shooting improved from the semifinal loss, but it had to. The Volunteers shot 38.4 percent (28-for-73) against North Carolina, including 15-for-31 on 3s.
Against Butler, the Volunteers shot 25 percent for the game from the field, including a startling 10 percent in the second half.
“We’re not satisfied with the loss but in my four years I’ve never been around a team that rallied around each other the way we did tonight,” Bradshaw said. “It gave us a look at what it really takes to be a national championship caliber team and it’s great to have that look early in the season to see where we can set that bar ourselves.”