Year in Review: Top Plays

As Thursday night's team banquet approaches, Inside Carolina takes a look back at the 2007-08 hoops season in a series of articles this week. Today, the Top 10 plays of the year ...

10) Tyler Hansbrough's dunk vs. Iona – If there were any questions surrounding Hansbrough's athletic prowess entering the season, the junior All-American answered them in the home-opener against Iona. Hansbrough applied defensive pressure out near the timeline, forcing a turnover that Ty Lawson recovered and then passed ahead to his big man who was running free and clear to the goal. In one of the worst decisions of the season, 6-foot, 160-pound Gaels guard De'Shaune Griffin attempted to defend Hansbrough's thunderous, leaning one-handed slam. The National Player of the Year would later say that he never even knew Griffin was in the vicinity, while calling the dunk "probably the best since I've been here."

9) Danny Green's block vs. Georgia Tech – During the month of January, there was plenty of deserved criticism dripping from North Carolina's defensive effort, and the Georgia Tech meeting in Atlanta provided the obvious evidence. Not only had the Yellow Jackets connected on 45.3 percent of their field goal attempts, but they had pulled down 17 offensive rebounds as well. So when Green hit just one of two free throw attempts to put the Tar Heels up one with 23 seconds remaining, there was an overwhelming sense that Georgia Tech would get a good look at a game-winning shot. And they did, as Zach Peacock had an up-close attempt in the closing seconds, but Green made up for his miss from the charity stripe, blocking the shot and preserving North Carolina's third straight ACC win.

8) Hansbrough's dunk vs. UNC Asheville – Hansbrough struggled at times during the first half this season, but he always seemed to make the appropriate adjustments in the locker room. The early January meeting with UNC Asheville was a prime example. After missing four of his last five shots in the first half, the junior All-American took an aggressive approach to dealing with 7-foot-7, 360-pound Kenny George.

Hansbrough received the ball at the free throw line, and drove to his left and elevated up and over George with a two-handed slam that became an ESPN staple highlight. Even the National Player of the Year knew of the hype surrounding the dunk, telling an inquiring reporter at the Final Four, "I'm shocked you haven't seen that."

7) Ty Lawson's ankle injury vs. Florida State – The play that changed North Carolina's season for the better was not a positive one, ironically. When FSU's Ryan Reid pulled Ty Lawson down to the ground less than four minutes into a mid-season ACC clash, it initially appeared as though the Seminole defender took the brunt of the fall. But Lawson's foot was wedged underneath Reid and the floor, starting a six-week period of toughness and team chemistry growth during the Tar Heels' starting point guard's absence.

"Honestly, I don't even remember," Lawson said when asked about the fall. "I think I blacked out for like 10 seconds… I don't remember what I did. They said he grabbed me and pulled me back, and I guess he fell on me, but I honestly don't remember."

6) Quentin Thomas' free throws vs. Clemson – The player most affected by Lawson's injury was seldom-used backup senior point guard Quentin Thomas. After struggling in his starting debut at the point in a double-digit loss to Duke, the Oakland, Calif. product embraced the spotlight in his second outing in command. Thomas hit a driving lay-up in regulation to force overtime after Clemson had led by 11 points with just 3:12 to play, and then connected on two free throws with 38 seconds left to once again tie the game and send it to a second extra session, giving the Tar Heels enough breathing room to pull away for a 103-93 victory.

The senior would later admit that he thought the first free throw actually tied the game, but regardless, that effort ignited a storybook ending for the oft-injured point guard. "It was a good feeling for me just to contribute in a game like that…," Thomas said postgame. ... "It let me know that [I'm] meant to be here."

5) Hansbrough's hook shot vs. Virginia – The 75-74 victory at Virginia will be remembered as the game that North Carolina should never have won. After all, Deon Thompson hyper-extended his left knee in the first half, and Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard were both game time decisions that combined to play 70 crucial minutes. The Tar Heels were just hoping to escape Charlottesville with a victory, and it took a patented Hansbrough baby hook from his back pocket over a taller defender with 22 seconds left to give North Carolina a significant four-point lead, as Sean Singletary would drain a 3-pointer on Virginia's next possession.

"Well we like to think that it is a jump-hook, but it is not," head coach Roy Williams said when asked about the shot. "Shotput, jump-hook, Hansbrough Special, whatever you want to call it… We went to him inside and, needless to say, he delivered for us and made a big basket."

4) Hansbrough's jumpers vs. Louisville – When North Carolina's 12-point halftime margin over Louisville vanished in the second half of the Elite Eight clash, Hansbrough scored five quick points to move his Tar Heels back out in front. But the Cardinals kept chipping away, and when Earl Clark hit a jumper to inch Louisville to within 71-66 with 3:52 left on the clock, Hansbrough delivered the knockout blows in fitting fashion, by connecting on two 18-foot jumpers to extend the lead to 75-66, effectively ending any hopes for a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino summed the field goals up best, saying, "Tyler Hansbrough made two shots that we prayed they were going to take."

3) Wayne Ellington's 3-pointer vs. Clemson – Down 88-87 with 13.9 seconds left in overtime in South Carolina, most observers expected Tyler Hansbrough to get an opportunity to win the game for the Tar Heels. But when Ty Lawson penetrated the Tigers' 1-3-1 zone at the top of the key, he discovered Wayne Ellington open on the left side of the perimeter, ready and waiting to continue on a then 33-point performance.

The smooth sharpshooter received the pass and drilled a 3-pointer with defensive pressure in his face, leaving Clemson only 0.4 seconds left to pull off a miracle that never would occur. Ellington would say after the game that, "It felt good leaving my hands, and [James Mays] had a chance to get it, but it felt good and I knew if it got there, it was going to go in."

2) Hansbrough's jumper vs. Virginia Tech – In a season decorated with awards and records, Hansbrough performed only one particular feat once, and that was hitting a game-winning shot. But it couldn't have come at a more important time, as the Tar Heels were striving to earn a shot at a second straight ACC Tournament title in Charlotte. When Ty Lawson missed a floater down the right side of the lane in the closing seconds on Semifinal Saturday, most in attendance were expecting overtime with the game knotted at 66.

But Hansbrough darted from the left side of the perimeter, scooped up the rebound and hoisted a 12-footer with 0.8 seconds left that hit nothing but net in lifting the Heels to victory. As always, the NPOY downplayed his efforts, saying, "I just ran over to where Ty was going to shoot, and luckily, the ball had a good roll out to me. I just caught it and let it fly. I'm pretty glad it went in."

1) Green's dunk vs. Duke – In a rather odd foreshadowing of events in the season-finale against archrival Duke, Danny Green was asked prior to the game how Greg Paulus was able to get under his opponent's skin. In his typical fashion, the junior wing answered bluntly, saying, "He's a hard-working kid, but he does little things to get under your skin and it kind of gets in your mind mentally. If the refs not looking, he'll give you a little nudge or something, and he does a lot of acting, too."

Fast forward approximately 30 hours, and Marcus Ginyard fed his New York teammate on a 2-on-1 fast break against – who else? – Paulus, and Green soared above the Blue Devils' point guard and slammed home a one-handed dunk that will go down as one of the all-time great North Carolina plays in the program's illustrious history. (Photo Link: The Dunk)


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