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North Carolina built an early second-half 60-39 lead, but the Tar Heels could never put their opponent away – the Colonels used an 8-0 run in the final six minutes to cut the UNC lead to 79-67 on a pair of Gil Verner free throws.
Tyler Hansbrough was listed as probable for this contest following his concussion in Sunday night's win at Rutgers, but the junior All-American showed no sign of any lingering effects in posting 27 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes of action.
"[Tyler] was fine – I wasn't really that concerned about it," head coach Roy Williams said when asked about Hansbrough's concussion. "I think they did one extra test that they probably wouldn't do very often just to make sure. He came back and had a great score on that test – which I don't know what that means – but it made the doctors feel better."
The Tar Heels would need every bit of the All-American's 13-point, six-rebound effort in the opening 20 minutes, as lethargy – or maybe it was jet lag from six consecutive road games – afflicted the rest of the roster. The Colonels, led by Australian Ryan Bathie's 17 points, connected on their first four three-point attempts to build a 14-8 early lead, and the game was knotted at 26 with eight minutes remaining before the break.
To say that Williams was displeased with his team's performance would be a rather glaring understatement.
"They may be tired of me, but they will be a heck of a lot more tired of me tomorrow," the Hall of Fame coach replied when asked if his squad was fatigued following the month-long road trip and final exams.
The entire roster is bracing for a Grinch-like practice session on Thursday afternoon.
"I think Coach [Williams] is going to test us to see how tough we are tomorrow," Hansbrough said. "I think it's going to be one of those practices where you know right away that Coach is going to be very particular about every little thing so you better do your job to the best of your ability."
North Carolina capitalized on its halfcourt traps by forcing 15 turnovers and recording six steals, but Nicholls State took advantage when they were able to break the pressure with penetration and kick outs for open three-point shots. The Colonels drilled 14 of their 28 attempts from long-range, while only shooting 12-of-27 on two-point field goals to finish at 47.3 percent overall.
"They have got five Australians on their team that play international ball – that's a penetrate-and-pitch kind of game," Williams said. "We knew they were going to shoot a lot of threes. We didn't get [to] where we needed to get… It wasn't a very good game for us."
The defense was not alone on this chilly December evening as the vaunted UNC offensive machine also struggled to ignite in its halfcourt sets. Hansbrough and Ty Lawson (20 points) combined to hit 13 of their 20 field goal attempts, helping boost the Tar Heels' shooting percentage to 48.3 percent (28-of-58) for the contest.
North Carolina will need to play significantly better on Saturday, when the Tar Heels welcome UC-Santa Barbara (10-1) to Chapel Hill for a 1 p.m. tip.