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Top 25 of the Last 25: #2 - Tyler Hansbrough Swats the Yellow Jackets in 2006

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The freshman single-handedly led the Tar Heels back from 20 down in his star-making game

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets v North Carolina Tar Heels Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

In our last installment of the Top 25, we took a look at a UNC freshman leading a thrilling comeback by scoring 40 points. In this piece we will...do the exact same thing.

Before Harrison Barnes took the ACC by storm as a frosh, there was Tyler Hansbrough. As we all know, the 2006 season started off with little fanfare. The defending champion Tar Heels were expected to have a down, even dismal, season following the departures of their top seven scorers. Instead, the young Heels shocked the ACC by finishing the regular season on a dominant seven-game win streak culminating in their classic victory in Durham in the regular season finale. There were many reasons for this unexpected gem of a year; David Noel’s veteran leadership, Reyshawn Terry’s improved play, the fearless defense of freshmen wings Danny Green and Marcus Ginyard.

But the biggest reason of course was Hansbrough. The Poplar Bluff native had been expected to be a quality player when he committed to Chapel Hill, but he was, in all likelihood, going to be sharing the interior with Marvin Williams and possibly Sean May in his debut season. But when Williams and May both jumped to the pros to become lottery picks, the paint was all Psycho T’s.

Throughout the season, Hansbrough played terrific basketball, but it was his game against Georgia Tech on February 16th that cemented his status as a star. The #23 Tar Heels were coming into the game having won four of their last five, the only loss a hard-fought game against top-ranked Duke in the Dean Dome. Carolina seemed to have found its form and were expected the wipe the struggling Yellow Jackets out.

Instead, the Tar Heels started the game with what Roy Williams described as “The most frustrating half I’ve ever coached.” 16 minutes into the game, Georgia Tech led 50-30 and were 8-8 from beyond the arc. They wouldn’t miss a three until there were 30 seconds left before intermission A nonexistent Carolina defense was being carved up by a team that was 3-8 in the ACC.

The only reason the game wasn’t completely and utterly out of reach by then was Hansbrough, who attacked the basketball as though possessed (y’know, the way we all remember). He either finished or got to the line over and over. At halftime he had 23 points and a small flurry at the end of the half had brought the Heels within 13.

In the second half, after what had to have been a Roy Williams tongue-lashing for the ages, Carolina came out with a fury on defense. The Yellow Jackets, unconscious in the first 20, were completely bottled up. The two halves were night and day. With one exception: Hansbrough kept scoring. His first basket of the half came on an and-one following a tough foul from Mario West, which cut the lead to five and sent the Dean Dome into hysterics. It’s your typical Hansbrough play: A hard runout on the break, a dive at the hoop, and a finish through contact, followed by a crash into the front row.

By the ten minute mark, Hansbrough had 36. At that point, his teammates had finally sprung to life offensively, and Carolina took a lead it would not relinquish with 6 to go. Two more driving layups gave Hansbrough his 40, a freshman ACC record and two better than Joseph Forte’s arena record. He would go 12-17 from the floor and 14-19 from the line, adding 10 rebounds to his effort. Carolina would take it 82-75. They held the Jackets to just 20 points in the 2nd half.

There’s a case to be made that Harrison Barnes’ 40 point game should top Tyler’s. After all, it was a postseason game and 2011 Clemson was a superior opponent to 2006 Georgia Tech. I put this at #2 however since Hansbrough reached his 40 in regulation while Barnes needed OT (albeit a fantastic one) to get his. In addition, Hansbrough’s 40 led a 20 point comeback with hardly any help from his teammates, while Barnes’ keyed a “meager” 14 point comeback that still featured good nights by Henson and Zeller.

But that’s enough self-justifying. Bottom line: Two Carolina freshmen scored 40 points. No Duke freshman has ever done that. Heh.