Tar Heels hold off Racers in NCAA first round
Dayton, OH (Sports Network) - Tyler Hansbrough delivered a game-high 24 points and made the go-ahead basket with 43.2 seconds left as North Carolina held off upset-minded Murray State 69-65 in a first-round game in the Washington bracket of the NCAA Tournament.
The fabulous freshman snapped a 65-65 tie with a short jump hook from the baseline to send the defending national champion Tar Heels (23-7) into Sunday's second round.
"If (Hansbrough) was any better looking I'd want to kiss him after every win," joked North Carolina head coach Roy Williams. "I've never seen a freshman more focused than Tyler is."
Fellow freshman Danny Green added 15 points off the bench for third-seeded North Carolina ,which will next face 11th-seeded George Mason. The Patriots surprised Michigan State 75-65 earlier in the night.
Trey Pearson netted 18 points and Issian Redding had 12 for the 14th-seeded Racers (24-7), who gave the heavily-favored Tar Heels all they could handle before coming up just short.
"I'm proud of our effort," said Racers head coach Mick Cronin. "I'm proud of our team. I'm certainly proud of individual performances. But in no way, shape or form are we satisfied."
Murray State hung tough all throughout the contest despite losing leading scorer Shawn Witherspoon in the first half due to a broken bone in his foot.
"Other guys stepped up," said Cronin. "Issian played tremendous in Shawn's absence. We did what we had to do, but we came up a little short."
The stubborn Racers grabbed a 52-48 lead when Rob Kennedy followed a Pearson three-pointer with a putback near the midway mark of the second half.
North Carolina responded via a 7-0 run capped by a Green triple with 7:55 remaining which broke a 52-52 deadlock.
However, the Tar Heels couldn't put the pesky Ohio Valley champions away. UNC held a 65-61 edge after Bobby Frasor's clutch three-pointer with 2:45 to go, but Redding drove the lane and scored on the ensuing possession before Darnell Hopkins sank a fadeaway jumper with 1:18 left to tie things up.
After a North Carolina time out, Marcus Ginyard got the ball to Hansbrough on the baseline to the right of the basket. The ACC Rookie of the Year took a few steps before sinking the tie-breaking shot.
Pearson then missed a three-point try and UNC's David Noel corralled the rebound before passing up court to Ginyard, who was fouled with 16.5 seconds left. He calmly hit both attempts to extend the margin to an important four points.
Murray State misfired again as time wound down; and the Tar Heels avoided their first opening-round loss in the Tournament since their memorable 76-74 defeat to Weber State in the 1999 West Regional.
"You like the way you can compete and execute down the stretch, but we do feel very fortunate," Williams remarked. "We thought Tyler was very big again inside, to say the least, and Danny made some big baskets for us as well. Survive and advance, that's what we're trying to do."
The Tar Heels were up by as many as seven in the first half, but the Racers closed out the period strong and took a 31-30 lead into the break after Pearson drained a jumper with 12 seconds on the clock.
The lead changed several times early in the second half, with neither team able to pull away.
After a pair of Hansbrough dunks on back-to-back possessions put North Carolina up 46-44 with around 13 minutes remaining, Justin Orr buried a three- pointer to send Murray State back in front.
Murray State fell to 1-13 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, with its lone win coming against North Carolina State in 1988. The Racers last made the field in 2004, losing 72-53 to Illinois in Columbus...Hansbrough and Reyshawn Terry each finished with nine rebounds for North Carolina...The Tar Heels went 20- of-25 from the free throw line, compared to 8-of-12 for Murray State...Williams is 8-1 in NCAA play since taking over the Tar Heels program and 42-15 overall in the Tournament...North Carolina, which is appearing in its 38th NCAA Tournament, has the second-most wins of any school (89). UNC trails only Kentucky's 99 NCAA victories.MURRAYST NCAROLINA