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March 1, 2008

Comeback Kids

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. - In North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson's first game back from injury, another point guard named Ty almost stole the show.

But the No. 3 Tar Heels overcame 46 points from Boston College's Tyrese Rice and an 18-point second-half deficit to leave Conte Forum with a 90-80 win.

"It's a positive thing because it speaks to our toughness," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "But I told (the players) I would rather be down two than 18, and it's still called a comeback."

North Carolina (27-2, 12-2 in the ACC) turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, especially on Rice, who scored the most-ever points in a game by a UNC opponent in ACC play.

Lawson, who played 21 minutes and had five assists, teamed up with Marcus Ginyard to make things more difficult for the Eagles' star.

Rice was 4-for-10 shooting in the second half and didn't make a 3-pointer after nailing 8 of 9 from beyond the arc in the first half.

At one point during that amazing first-half performance, Ginyard urged Rice to take it easy on the Tar Heels.

"I just told him to slow down," Ginyard said. "I said, 'You've got to relax a little, man.' "

According to Ginyard, Rice - whose Eagles are now 13-14 overall and 4-10 in the ACC - responded, "We're trying to save our season here. We're trying to use this to get somewhere. Y'all ain't got nothing to lose, so I've got to go for it."

Williams told the Tar Heels early in the second half that if they could get within 10 points of the Eagles with 10 minutes to go, they would end up with a chance to win the game eventually.

"We got there a lot quicker than that," Williams said.

Danny Green hit three 3-pointers during an 18-0 run that UNC used to take a 62-61 lead with 11 minutes to go in the game.

With Rice struggling to regain his first-half form, the Eagles' offense looked lost, and the Tar Heels began converting BC turnovers into points.

Between UNC's hot shooting and its stifling defense, the 18-point deficit improbably turned into a double-digit lead in the final minutes.

"I really believe our defense was the biggest part of the game," said Williams, who sparked his team with a five-for-five substitution early in the second half.

By the time Lawson entered the game at the 15-minute mark of the first half, Rice was already smoking, having hit four 3-pointers four in a row in the opening minutes to give Boston an instant double-figure lead.

The good thing for Lawson was that coming in to face a red-hot Rice forced him to test his ankle in ways he might not have been fully comfortable with otherwise.

"He's going to come at you," Lawson said. "That was the main thing. I had to get up and pressure Tyrese, and I had to push the ball. It made me test it a little better."

The Eagles shot 61 percent from the field in the first half, and took a 54-40 lead into the locker room.

Tyler Hansbrough had scored 17 or his team-high 25 points by the break, but the Tar Heels weren't getting all the supporting help that had made them such a good team despite the absence of Lawson in the previous six games.

Wayne Ellington was 0 for 4 and the team shot 39 percent in the period.

"Everyone was pretty much angry," Hansbrough said. "Everyone knew we had to play a lot better."

In the second half, suddenly everyone in a Carolina jersey looked like they remembered how they had survived all those games without Lawson, except now they were surviving with him.

Ellington and Green got hot, finishing with 20 and 18 points, respectively. Ellington was 7 for 8 in the second half, and Green tied a career-high with four 3-pointers.

And with everything falling into place, the Tar Heels headed home still perfect on the road in ACC play with just one more game remaining away from the Smith Center.

"We just calmed down," Ginyard said. "We weren't worried about the score anymore. When we're not worried about that it's amazing what this team can do."


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