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March 8, 2009

Hansbrough leads Heels in senior night win

CHAPEL HILL - Tyler Hansbrough says his favorite game in four years at North Carolina was winning at Cameron Indoor Stadium as a freshman.

It just so happened that the Tar Heels' victory that year spoiled former Blue Devil J.J. Redick's senior night.

Hansbrough scored 17 points to creep ever closer to Redick's ACC career scoring record, but more importantly, he made sure nothing tarnished his own senior night, a 79-71 victory against the Blue Devils.

And though Hansbrough says his last game at the Smith Center still can't top that win from four years ago on his all-time list, it did give the second-ranked Tar Heels sole ownership of the ACC regular-season title.

"It's a hard game to play," Hansbrough said. "You're thinking about everything. You're thinking, 'Oh man, this is my last game,' and you're still trying to focus on the game and get the win."

It was an emotional night for Carolina's seven-man senior class, which included three walk-ons.

Hansbrough got choked up during his post-game speech, and UNC coach Roy Williams did the same at the end of his press conference.

"It's been a class that it's going to be hard for people to match," Williams said.

Williams - after giving a heads up to the officials and to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski - put all seven seniors on the floor to start the game, taking the walk-ons off just before the tip.

The only non-senior starter was point guard Ty Lawson, though it was also likely the last home game at UNC for the junior as well.

If it was indeed his last - though fans started a chant of "One more year!" during Lawson's turn to cut a piece of the net down during the post-game festivities - it was a memorable one.

Lawson nearly racked up a triple-double, scoring 13 points, dishing out nine assists and grabbing eight rebounds.

And he did it with an injured big toe that nearly kept him from playing.

"I was extremely concerned about Ty," Williams said. "I did not know until I came over here today if he would be ready to play. Yesterday he tried to jog up and down the floor, and that's all he could do."

He did much more than that when the Tar Heels (27-3, 13-3 in the ACC) needed it most.

Carolina retook the lead less than three minutes into the second half after trailing 39-38 at the break, but the rest of the game was a constant struggle of staving off the Blue Devils (25-6, 11-5).

Even though Duke shot just 32 percent in the second half, Carolina never got any kind of comfortable lead.

But what they did do was answer when Duke hit a big bucket.

When Duke cut the lead to two with five minutes to go, it was Deon Thompson (14 points) who scored on a hook shot and drew the foul to push the lead back to five.

When a 3-pointer by Jon Scheyer, who led the Blue Devils with 24 points, once again left the margin at two, Lawson drove into the lane and kicked the ball out to a wide-open senior Danny Green, who swished through a three of his own.

Two minutes later, Lawson iced the game with a driving lay-up and foul that gave UNC a 76-69 lead with a minute to play.

"Ty stepped up and showed toughness," Hansbrough said.

So did the rest of the Tar Heels in completing the journey to a league crown despite starting ACC play off 0-2.

"It means a lot," Green said. "We knew it wasn't something that was impossible. We knew it wasn't the end of the world that we lost two games."

Finishing with a win against their biggest rival is something the Carolina seniors will always remember, even if it's not enough to usurp that freshman-year victory on Hansbrough's personal list.

"Nothing's topped that yet," he said. "(But) this was my last home game. That's what stands out to me. … The fact that it was against Duke makes it all that much better."


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