Heels Keep Hanlan in Check

GREENSBORO, N.C. – North Carolina coach Roy Williams used several different players to limit ACC leading scorer Olivier Hanlan in the Tar Heels’ 81-63 victory over Boston College in ACC Tournament second round action on Wednesday.

The first time these two teams got together in Chestnut Hill, Hanlan delivered exactly as advertised, and then some. The Eagles standout torched the Heels for a season-high 30 points and was able to will his way to the free throw line (he went 8-9).

Hanlan opened the ACC Tournament against Georgia Tech by hitting the game winning shot with 10.9 seconds left to cap a 25-point, 8-rebound performance.

Given Hanlan’s elite scoring ability and his hot start in the ACC tournament, the Tar Heels knew that he had to be the top priority on defense.

“You have to be very aware of where he is,” UNC guard Nate Britt said following the win. “He dominates the ball a lot in their offense, so you have to be aware of where he is on the court at all times.”

Hanlan is listed at 6-foot-4, but with his quickness and lethal shooting ability, he poses a unique matchup problem for almost every player that is tasked with guarding him.

J.P. Tokoto drew the Hanlan assignment for much of the game and his length made it difficult for Hanlan to get easy looks, in addition to possessing the athleticism necessary to deny him the lane.

“I didn’t gamble as much today,” Tokoto said. “I was focused on keeping him in front of me and gave him an extra step because I know he likes to drive... He knocked down a couple today, but we made it tough for him.”

Tokoto wasn’t the only piece of this defensive puzzle. At times, Williams rotated Marcus Paige and Joel Berry, and even Britt on occasion, to pester Hanlan on the perimeter.

Given that Hanlan accounts for almost 30 percent of the Eagles’ scoring, their offense is designed around feeding him the ball by setting high screens that get him free to either drive or catch and shoot on the perimeter.

“Your mind is always wondering if there is a screen coming or if he is going to reject the ball screen, or is he going to pull up, or is he going to try and beat you off the dribble,” Berry said. “He’s an all around great player, so you never know what he is going to do. You just have to get down in a stance and defend him as best as possible.”

Thanks to the defensive swarm from UNC’s collection of defenders, the junior guard was unable to get going from behind the arc. Hanlan is a potentially dangerous 3-point shooter, having converted 35.8 percent (8th in the ACC) of his 172 tries from deep (also 8th in the ACC).

Against UNC, however, Hanlan made just a single 3-pointer on five attempts.

At the end of the day, Hanlan did score in double figures (18), but needed a high volume of shots (19) to do so. What’s more, Hanlan had only recorded seven points up until the 7:53 mark of the second half with Boston College trailing by 14 points. He scored 11 points down the stretch, but was unable pull his team any closer than nine points.

“I think Hanlan is just so, so hard to guard,” Williams said. “He’s a big-time player and our goal was to try and make sure that he didn’t shoot a good percentage. And 5-for-19 just happened.”

Even though Boston College is a team that has limited scoring options, the Tar Heels’ defensive effort against Hanlan is a step in the right direction. All season long, UNC has struggled to defend elite scoring guards with last Saturday’s performance against Duke’s Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones (who combined to score 44 points for the second time against UNC this season) serving as the most recent example.

The challenge now for North Carolina will be to replicate today’s performance for a second day in a row when they face a dangerous Louisville backcourt in the quarterfinal round.

“Having to go against Hanlan will get us in the mindset for tomorrow to play their guards,” Berry said. “I think we’ll do a good job. It’s not going to be easy, but we just have to get down and defend.”

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