Ty Lawson was in uniform on the bench, his ailing right big toe encased in a protective boot, so it’s not like North Carolina would have moved very fast with him in the game clunking down the court.
But with Bobby Frasor and Larry Drew II running the offense, the Heels certainly weren’t moving much faster.
North Carolina survived to advance to Saturday’s semifinals behind Tyler Hansbrough’s 28 points and a questionable jump-ball call with five seconds to go to hold off Virginia Tech 79-76, but it wasn’t the kind of basketball that makes Carolina so dangerous. It was really only half of it.
It didn’t matter Friday that Carolina couldn’t (or wouldn’t) push the ball up the floor, but it may matter Saturday if Florida State can beat Georgia Tech this afternoon and Lawson remains out — he’s “unlikely” to play tomorrow, Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
The Heels had only five fast-break points and only once tried to run off a made basket in the first half, with Danny Green missing a quick three-pointer. Carolina generated a mere 10 points off only seven Virginia turnovers.
Frasor did have only one turnover in a career-high 37 minutes, but he admits he just can’t do what Lawson does.
“No one can fill Ty’s shoes,” Frasor said. “He’s the ACC player of the year and an all-American guard. He gets us so many points just by raw speed. I can’t duplicate that.”
The inside offense of Hansbrough, Deon Thompson and Ed Davis was good enough to carry the Heels against Virginia Tech (despite some solid defensive work by Jeff Allen and Cheick Diakite), and A.D. Vassallo’s foul trouble helped keep him off the court in the first half — good news for Carolina, considering he finished with 26 points.
“It was an ugly game, but I’m real proud of us that we were able to win ugly,” Williams said.
But it will be a different equation tomorrow if Florida State is the opponent. At one point Friday, Carolina had three tips at a Hansbrough miss before Danny Green converted. That will not happen as easily against Solomon Alabi, Chris Singleton, Uche Echefu and Ryan Reid.
With those guys, the Seminoles can bring as much height inside as any team in the conference, an attribute which gave the Heels a ton of trouble in Tallahassee, holding a foul-plagued Hansbrough to eight points. And that was with Toney Douglas harassing Lawson instead of Frasor and Drew.
Lawson bailed out the Heels that night in January with his last-second game-winner. It doesn’t look like he’ll be around to help Saturday.
-- Luke DeCock