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Friday, January 30, 2009

Lawson propels Tar Heels to dramatic victory

Posted by on Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 3:15 PM

Road victories are a precious commodity in the ACC. North Carolina can attest to that after Wednesday night’s shootout with Florida State, when the Seminoles gamely defended their home court and appeared to be on the verge of victory with just a couple minutes remaining.

A Danny Green steal and a strong defensive stop by Tyler Hansbrough changed that, however, and the Tar Heels had a chance to win with two seconds remaining. That still didn’t leave them with great odds of avoiding overtime, but Ty Lawson raced the length of the floor and lofted in a running three-pointer as time expired to give the Heels an 80-77 victory.

Lawson and Danny Green were the only Tar Heel starters to enjoy good performances. Lawson led the team in both points (21) and, shockingly, rebounds (9). He also doled out four assists against two turnovers against a very tough defensive team. Green, meanwhile, had 20 points, seven rebounds and six steals, including that crucial one in the closing moments.

It was not a great night for Hansbrough. The big man labored through foul trouble and scored only eight points, snapping a 55-game streak of scoring in double figures. After a recent surge in scoring, Wayne Ellington shot just 3-for-13 en route to 14 points. Deon Thompson struggled once again with his shooting, hitting just 2-for-10 from the floor to score eight points.

So, what can we make of this performance?

The positive perspective is that the Heels were able to win a close game, overcoming significant adversity to triumph on an opponent’s home floor. Florida State is ranked No. 27 in the RPI standings, so clearly that’s a quality ballclub.

Given that, then, it’s impressive that UNC could go into Tallahassee and win despite shooting 38 percent, committing 21 turnovers and losing the battle of fastbreak points 15-13. The Heels appeared to be struggling from a confidence standpoint during the stretch early this month when they fell to Wake Forest and Boston College, and now this season’s team – not just the guys who played for last season’s team – has shown it can out-think and out-fight the opposition in a close game.

On the dark side, Carolina did all those bad things I mentioned in the previous paragraph. They didn’t take care of the ball or shoot well, and to win it all they’ll obviously have to take down better teams than FSU.

It also has become clear that, for whatever reason, Hansbrough is not the same player he was last season. The stress reaction he suffered in his shin in the preseason is the likely culprit, but he will have to regain form for the team to prevail in the NCAA Tournament.

Defensively, the Heels continue to struggle containing talented guards. FSU’s Toney Douglas lit them up for 32 points, following in the frightening footsteps of Wake’s Jeff Teague and BC’s Tyrese Rice.

Moving forward, Carolina has moved into fourth place in the conference and, thanks to Wake’s victory over Duke on Wednesday night, are just one game back from the division leaders. The Heels travel to Raleigh on Saturday, another venue that will not be blue-friendly.

To see the UNC/FSU box score, click here.

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