Freshmen help No. 2 North Carolina rout Gardner-Webb

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina wasn't about to let another game against Gardner-Webb come down to the final moments.

Not after the Runnin' Bulldogs nearly upset the Tar Heels a year ago. And certainly not after North Carolina's less-than-inspired effort in its most recent game.

So this time, the No. 2 Tar Heels removed all doubt right from the start. Freshman Brandan Wright scored 12 of his 21 points in the first half of a 103-50 rout of Gardner-Webb on Sunday in North Carolina's home opener.

"Coach told us to come out here and play hard," Wright said. "It was the first home game, the crowd was going to be revved up. Our main goal was defense, so we had to get in the passing lanes, rebound, try not to give up open shots ... just doing the right things."

Freshman Wayne Ellington added 19 points and preseason All-American Tyler Hansbrough had 18 for the Tar Heels (3-0), who never trailed, shot 53 percent and reached triple digits for the second time this season.

It was just the kind of performance coach Roy Williams was hoping for after his Tar Heels struggled four days earlier against Winthrop, falling behind by 12 before rallying for a closer-than-expected 73-66 win. Afterward, Williams challenged his team to play with more intensity.

"If you don't step it up, you're going to get beat. It was as simple as that," Wright said. "None of the guys on the team wanted to take an L, so we've got step it up in practices, and on the court, do what he says, or there's going to be some long practices."

Almost from the opening tip of this one, the Tar Heels proved they got the message. They opened with an 11-2 spurt, took a double-figure lead after barely four minutes and then used several spurts to build a 38-point halftime lead and overwhelm the outmanned Runnin' Bulldogs.

There will be a tougher assignment Wednesday against Gongaza in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.

"There's not very many coaches that would say they're very comfortable with where their team is right now, and we're a long way off from where we can be defensively," Williams said. "Yet I think we're getting better. We're better today than we were the last game. We better be."

Chris Gash led Gardner-Webb (0-3) with 14 points and Takayo Siddle added 10.

"Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to compete and win," Gash said.

The Tar Heels made sure they wouldn't need another buzzer-beater to beat Gardner-Webb, which committed 17 of its 21 turnovers during the first half and lacked the manpower to stop North Carolina from scoring seemingly at will.

"It's a different Gardner-Webb team," Hansbrough said. "This year, we've played two games already and we're just kind of more in the flow of things."

Exactly one year earlier in the Tar Heels' opener, North Carolina needed a 3-pointer from David Noel with 1.8 seconds left to defeat Gardner-Webb 83-80 after the Runnin' Bulldogs rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit.

"Coming in last year, we had an older bunch. This year, I don't know if it was confidence, but we came in with the fact that we could try to compete," Gash said.

No drama was necessary this time as North Carolina improved to 73-2 in home openers. The Tar Heels led 57-19 at the break after shooting 58 percent and holding the Runnin' Bulldogs to less than 27 percent shooting.

Wright led the way during the smothering first half. He scored with ease on layups, dunks and put-backs during his first 20-point game at North Carolina.

"I think he can run like crazy, but he doesn't have that feel for it yet," Williams said. "He's not as big a factor on the offensive boards as I think he will be, and he's not as effective blocking shots as I think he will be. He's just like a little colt out there, just feeling his way around right now, but he's doing OK."