CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—Tyler Hansbrough banged around and scored in the paint while Wayne Ellington knocked down outside shots. It was more than enough to keep third-ranked North Carolina atop the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Hansbrough had 29 points to continue his late-season surge while Ellington added 17 in the Tar Heels’ 89-73 win over Wake Forest on Sunday night, helping them move a half-game ahead of Duke.
Danny Green had 15 points for the Tar Heels (26-2, 11-2 ACC), who shot 56 percent—7-for-14 from 3-point range—to win its fourth straight in the series and fifth in a row overall.
Not bad, given their recent injuries.
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Hansbrough said. “We can’t sit back and say, ‘Some guys are hurt.’ That’s where some guys are stepping up.”
The 6-foot-9 Hansbrough turned in another stellar performance, going 9-for-13 from the field and 11-for-14 from the line. It was his seventh straight game with at least 22 points, a streak that began when the Tar Heels lost point guard Ty Lawson to a sprained left ankle in the early minutes of an overtime win at Florida State on Feb. 3.
Hansbrough is averaging 28 points and 12.1 rebounds during that stretch, helping pad his lead as the conference leader in both categories. He managed just five rebounds, but had four steals in 37 minutes.
Ellington, meanwhile, went 3-for-5 from 3-point range, marking the fifth straight game he has hit at least three 3s. His biggest came just before halftime, when he took a high inbounds pass from Green and knocked down a contested 3 from the far left corner in front of the Wake Forest bench. That gave North Carolina a 50-41 lead at the break that would grow to as many as 21 points.
The Tar Heels kept attacking the Demon Deacons (16-9, 6-6) to get them in foul trouble and get to the line. Wake Forest was whistled for six fouls in the first 4 minutes, while 7-foot center Chas McFarland—matched up with Hansbrough early—picked up his fourth foul 48 seconds into the second half.
North Carolina took advantage, hitting 26 of 34 free throws.
“(With) our style of play, the other team is going to get in foul trouble,” coach Roy Williams said. “It’s not just the guys in the striped shirts because we’re going to throw the ball inside. We’re going to attack the basket. We’re going to get fouled and we’re going to put the other team in position to be in foul trouble. We have with every team I’ve ever coached and every team I ever will.”
James Johnson scored 22 points for the Demon Deacons, who were within two points late in the first half before the Tar Heels steadily pulled away. Wake Forest was playing for the first time since last weekend’s 86-73 upset of the then-No. 2 Blue Devils, easily the program’s biggest victory since Chris Paul left early for the NBA three years ago.
But the Demon Deacons couldn’t follow that with another surprise.
“When you’re preparing for these guys there’s so much to prepare for,” Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. “You’ve got to get back on defense. They’re the leading rebounding team in the league. Tyler’s a handful inside. … You have to do a lot of things well to beat them. We didn’t do obviously enough things well.”
Wake Forest shot 48 percent, but went just 8-for-17 from the line and was outrebounded 38-24. The Demon Deacons hung around early by hitting six 3-pointers in the first half, but went just 1-for-7 from behind the arc after the break.
Still, the Demon Deacons’ biggest problems were on defense against an attack that—while missing Lawson for the sixth straight game—continued to push the ball upcourt. Quentin Thomas finished with six points and seven assists in Lawson’s place, while swingman Marcus Ginyard had a career-best six assists.
“It just felt like they were running the ball and we couldn’t contain them on defense,” Wake Forest guard L.D. Williams said. “Coaches felt all week that it was going to be a track meet out there, and it took us a little too long to realize that.”