WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - The mask protecting his broken nose kept sliding around, frustrating Tyler Hansbrough as he tussled in the paint with Michigan State’s physical defenders.
“It was like a little bee flying around your face that you try to slap away,” he said. “And it won’t go away.”
So North Carolina’s big man tossed it off, then helped the Tar Heels dispose of the determined Spartans.
The sophomore finished with 33 points and nine rebounds to help the Tar Heels hold off Michigan State 81-67 on Saturday night, giving the East Regional’s top seed a record 27th trip to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.
Hansbrough’s 33 points were the most by a Tar Heels player in the tournament since Al Wood had 39 against Ralph Sampson and Virginia in the 1981 Final Four. And the Tar Heels (30-6) needed every one of them to outlast ninth-seeded Michigan State and continue their long-running NCAA success in their home state.
The Tar Heels had to withstand Drew Neitzel’s 3-point shooting barrage. They had to scrap on the boards with one of the nation’s top rebounding teams. And they had to stay composed as the Spartans (23-12) pushed ahead midway through the second half.
“Our kids showed a tremendous amount of toughness today,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
Reyshawn Terry added 12 of his 14 points in the final seven minutes despite battling an illness for North Carolina, which will face the winner of Sunday’s Texas-Southern California game next week in East Rutherford, N.J. Freshman point guard Ty Lawson added 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds.
North Carolina improved to 21-1 in instate tournament games, including 6-0 in games played here — home to Atlantic Coast Conference rival Wake Forest.
Hansbrough finished 10-for-17 from the field and 13-for-17 from the line in a career-high 38 minutes. He started the game wearing the mask to protect the injury he suffered when he was hit with an elbow on a flagrant foul by Duke’s Gerald Henderson on March 4, but took it off on the sidelines and re-entered the game to loud cheers with 12:33 left in the first half.
“I felt comfortable taking it off,” he said. “It was one of those things where I was trying to wear it this game, and if we win and advance to the next game, I would’ve taken it off anyway. But I felt more comfortable with it off.”
Neitzel finished with 26 points and six 3-pointers in 38 gritty minutes, but North Carolina eventually wore down the Spartans in the final minutes.
“Anytime you play a team that’s so athletic getting up and down the court, it takes a lot out of you, especially with the foul trouble and lack of depth we had,” said Neitzel, who went 9-for-27 from the field and 6-for-17 from 3-point range.
That’s when Terry — who missed the morning shootaround with a fever and a headache — came up with his biggest baskets. The senior made three free throws during the run, knocked down a contested jumper over Neitzel then followed with a 3-pointer with 2½ minutes left that pushed North Carolina’s lead to 73-65 with 2:25 left and further charged his hometown crowd.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Michigan State got no closer the rest of the way, coming up short of pulling off what would have been the biggest upset of the tournament, so far.
“(Terry) made some big shots,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “I get tired of hearing about all the freshmen. It’s usually the juniors and seniors that earn their keep in money time. Give him credit, man. He brought it in money time.”
The Tar Heels didn’t get much offensive balance, tying a season low with six bench points. Freshman forward Brandan Wright, the team’s No. 2 scorer at 14.9 points per game, finished with three on 1-for-5 shooting.
But North Carolina shot 48 percent, hit 25 of 34 free throws and took a 40-29 rebounding advantage against a team that hadn’t been outrebounded by more than four in a game this season.
CBT: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made it official that he'll be coaching Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and he'll also be with Duke at least that long, too.
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