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When Hansbrough's scoring tapered off slightly following his first missed shot to start the second half, senior Reyshawn Terry took over by scoring all of his 18 points in the final period as the Tar Heels broke the game open.
"Being a senior leader, I felt like I had to take charge," Terry said.
Three other Tar Heels scored in double figures; freshmen Brandan Wright, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson netted 10 apiece.
The Tar Heels (1-0) shot 63 percent from the field in the second half and 59 percent for the game, out-rebounded the Pioneers (0-2) by a 41-36 margin and outscored them 68-28 in the paint.
"Tyler was sensational in the first half, and Reyshawn gave us a lift in the second," Roy Williams said. "It was a good opener for us."
The Tar Heels started the game slightly out of sync, except for Hansbrough, who scored 10 of his team's first 14 points. The Pioneers hung around throughout the first half by making six of 13 three-point attempts, and aided by poor perimeter shooting (2-for-8 3PT) by the Tar Heels.
UNC went ahead for good though at 20-18 when Hansbrough knifed through a double team in the lane and then jammed emphatically with 11:44 remaining in the first half. By that point, Williams had already gone nine-deep on his bench. Williams ultimately cleared his bench, but nine players played double-figure minutes.
The pace and flow of the game tilted quickly towards the style of the Tar Heels' favoring when Ty Lawson spelled Bobby Frasor, who started at point guard.
Another Hansbrough dunk off an Alex Stepheson dish gave UNC a 27-20 advantage – its largest lead to that point. When Williams went to bench minutes later which included the insertion of Deon Thompson – the 10th Tar Heel to enter the game, several Sacred Heart players were already hanging on to their shorts.
In all, 12 Tar Heels played first half minutes as UNC took a 42-37 lead to the locker room. Still, no one is complaining about lack of playing time.
"Chemistry-wise, this is the best team I've ever been on," Terry said.
A three by Frasor with 15:44 to play finally pushed Carolina ahead by double digits, 55-44.
Luke Granato led Sacred Heart with 24 points converting eight threes.
The Tar Heels are now 85-12 all-time in season openers dropping just four since 1930, including two since the turn of the century.
Carolina, one of only two ranked teams in the tourney field (along with No. 24 Tennessee), is a prohibitive favorite to win its third Preseason NIT title, which would also be the third for Williams, who won it twice while at Kansas. UNC has a 15-2 all-time Preseason NIT record.
UNC will play Winthrop, 57-38 winners over Iona, in the second round Wednesday at 7 p.m.