Photo by Chase Olivieri/The Chronicle
ATLANTA -- Tyler Hansbrough ran off the floor of the Georgia Dome, struggling to find the right tunnel to the North Carolina locker room, but with his arms raised in triumph the whole time. He trailed his head coach, Roy Williams, who cleared his own path to jog off the court. Behind both of them, in a limping walk, was Tar Heel point guard Ty Lawson, who didn't play in North Carolina's ACC Tournament opener.
But it didn't matter that the ACC Player of the Year was sidelined, mostly because Hansbrough, last year's ACC Player of the Year, scored 28 points and made all 10 of his free throws to lift the top-seeded Tar Heels to a 79-76 win over No. 8 Virginia Tech in the first day of Friday's action. The Hokies (18-14) led 76-75 with 52 seconds left before Hansbrough scored North Carolina's last four points for the win.
No wonder he celebrated after the win, albeit less than he might if the Tar Heels (28-3) get to Sunday's championship. On a weekend when other presumed No. 1 seeds fell in their conference tournament openers, North Carolina survived, even if the game wasn't as pretty as they would have preferred.
"I've said many, many times, you have to win some games ugly to have a great year," Williams said. "I just think it's more fun in the 80s and 90s."
North Carolina, which plays either No. 4 Florida State or No. 12 Georgia Tech Saturday at 1 p.m., struggled to reach its ACC-leading average of 91.2 points per game, perhaps because its floor leader, Lawson, wore a black shoe on his right foot to help his right big toe heal.
After the game, Williams said Lawson was "unlikely" to play Saturday, but added that "he felt much better today than he did yesterday."
Filling in for Lawson was senior guard Bobby Frasor, who chipped in with a career-high 37 minutes. Frasor--or his backup, Larry Drew II--is not Lawson, and he was the first to acknowledge that in the post-game press conference Friday. Still, he provided just enough for the Tar Heels to move on, and in the ACC Tournament, that's all matters.
"They're still going to run, they're still going to establish Hansbrough," Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said. "They're going to try and free up Ellington. It's not like they're void of players. They have a lot of players. Bobby Frasor was a McDonald's All-American. They took a Player of the Year out and put a McDonald's All-American in. It's pretty good to have that luxury."
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