CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—North Carolina’s rotation has dwindled and its bench has thinned because of injuries and illnesses.
Good thing for the top-ranked Tar Heels that all those hard fouls haven’t gotten to Tyler Hansbrough.
Hansbrough scored 25 points and made all 11 of his free throws to lead North Carolina to a 90-61 rout of Kent State on Wednesday night.
The injury-depleted Tar Heels were without three key players, yet had enough depth to roll to their fourth straight victory by at least 25 points.
“I feel like we’ve got six starters … but the seventh, eighth and ninth guys, we’ve lost them during the last couple of weeks,” coach Roy Williams said. “It’s been a little difficult, but that’s the reason you try to have more than five or six players.”
Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson both had 17 points for the Tar Heels (14-0), who never trailed and pulled away late during their final nonconference tuneup before Atlantic Coast Conference play starts Sunday at No. 19 Clemson.
“Now we get in the family stuff,” Williams said. “I’ve been working my tail off to make sure they’re focused for the last four or five games, because we’ve played some pretty solid basketball teams, and if they need me to get (them) focused now, we’re really in bad shape.”
North Carolina extended its best start since opening with 17 victories a decade ago, and matched its longest winning streak under Williams—whose 2004-05 team won 14 straight on its way to the school’s last national championship.
“We keep on improving—that’s our mind-set,” Hansbrough said. “It’s basically our mental approach to every game. Is our intensity going to be there? Is our defense going to be there? I think if we play (how) we’re capable of, we’ll be fine.”
Hansbrough finished with his seventh straight 20-point game for the Tar Heels, who shot 52.3 percent, made 17 of their 20 free throws and held the Golden Flashes to 3-for-18 shooting from 3-point range.
“I thought we did get some shots that we normally do make, and we missed them,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “That’s got to be a big part of the equation.”
Haminn Quaintance tied a career high with 20 points and Mike Scott added 13 for Kent State (10-3), which had its seven-game winning streak snapped and was coming off the program’s first-ever perfect December.
Playing a top-ranked team for the fourth time, the Golden Flashes hung close during the first half—pulling within 41-32 5 seconds before halftime on Scott’s dunk, only to see North Carolina take a permanent double-figure lead moments later on Ellington’s buzzer-beating 25-footer.
“I knew I had some time to get up the court a little bit, so I took a couple dribbles, got a clean look and it went in for me,” Ellington said.
The Tar Heels led by 20 points for good on Ellington’s shot in the lane midway through the second half and made it a 30-point game on Danny Green’s putback with 5 1/2 minutes left.
“They have a great ability to seize the game when they want to seize it, and impose their will on you,” Christian said. “To be a good basketball team, you have to fight back from it.”
They did it despite a thinned rotation, with reserve forward Alex Stepheson missing this game after returning home to California due to a family illness. That followed last week’s season-ending knee injury to backup point guard Bobby Frasor and an ankle injury to point guard Quentin Thomas that kept him out for two games.
“For this team, it says a lot for our depth, but we’ll be ready for them when we get back,” Hansbrough said.
In their place against Kent State, freshman swingman Will Graves and junior forward Mike Copeland had season highs in minutes. Still, in a sign of the depth Williams’ team boasts, eight players logged at least 14 minutes.
It was the first meeting between the schools since North Carolina routed the Golden Flashes 92-59 in 1978.