CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Even national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough has his limits.
That's where Wayne Ellington has been coming in for North Carolina (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 3 AP).
Ellington scored 12 of his 20 points in the second half of his latest big game, helping the Tar Heels shake off a sluggish start and beat Virginia 76-61 on Saturday for their seventh straight win.
Hansbrough had 15 points and 13 rebounds but was 4-for-11 shooting against a zone defense determined to make him a nonfactor. Danny Green added 17 points and Ty Lawson scored all 10 of his points during the game-breaking run while adding nine assists for the Tar Heels (21-2, 7-2).
And while most of the attention falls to Hansbrough, the current face of the program, Ellington's emergence has made the Tar Heels unbeatable lately. After a rough start to the season, the junior guard has scored at least 20 points four times during the winning streak -- including a season-high 34 last time out against Maryland.
"Wayne, obviously, he's making shots, Danny Green's making shots. ... We've talked about it a lot, when they make shots, it's hard to put a lot of guys inside, and it makes the defense spread out and guard everybody," Hansbrough said.
The Atlantic Coast Conference's hottest team overcame a slow first half by shooting 50 percent in the final 20 minutes and outscoring the Cavaliers 29-11 during a 13-minute stretch that bridged halftime.
"It's an experience that we needed to have," Ellington said. "All games aren't won the pretty way where we're making shots and going up and down the floor. It was a grind-it-out type of game."
Next up: Duke (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP) on Wednesday night in a matchup of the ACC's co-leaders and the latest renewal of college basketball's fiercest rivalry.
Not that anyone in powder blue would admit to peeking ahead.
"We're not even looking at Wednesday yet," Ellington said.
Jeff Jones scored 19 points to lead the Cavaliers (7-12, 1-7). They lost their seventh straight game, slipped into a tie for last in the ACC with Georgia Tech and absorbed their second lopsided loss on Tobacco Road in seven days. Duke beat them by 25 points on Feb. 1.
Freshman Sylven Landesberg scored 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting, and went roughly 22 minutes between field goals against the same North Carolina defense that last month held him to two points in a 22-point rout.
"We're not going to back down. We're going to keep fighting, keep playing our game and go after you," Landesberg said. "You have to have a short memory in this game."
This time, he was fouled while making a layup barely 5 minutes in, but missed the free throw that followed -- and didn't score again until he hit a 3-pointer with 13:39 remaining.
Yet for a while, at least, he and the Cavaliers kept things interesting. They closed within 24-23 on Jones' goaltended layup with 3:48 before halftime.
That's when the Tar Heels finally got rolling. Ed Davis hit a hook shot on his next trip downcourt and Ellington followed that with a 3-pointer to start the decisive push.
"Once we saw some openings in the zone, we started moving the ball around a little bit better, everyone started making cuts to the right positions and we started getting some easy baskets," Hansbrough said.
Lawson then took over after the break, driving hard to the basket on consecutive possessions before knocking down two 3s 90 seconds apart, the second of which put North Carolina up 53-34 with 11 minutes left. Green gave the Tar Heels their first 20-point lead with a layup just inside the 6-minute mark.
"Usually, we make our runs in the second half, because we have to fight back from the first-half deficit," Landesberg said. "We played pretty well in the first half, but we let it get away in the second half."
Sammy Zeglinski added 11 points for Virginia, which was denied its first victory in Chapel Hill since January 2002 and lost its 24th straight game on a top-five team's home floor.
The Tar Heels never trailed, but at times they played like they were looking ahead to that meeting with the Blue Devils. They didn't come close to putting this one away until their top three outside threats got hot.
North Carolina hit a season-best 16 3-pointers last time out against Maryland. Ellington, Green and Lawson teamed to hit 24 of 37 shots in that rout -- but they were a combined 3-for-15 at one early point against the zone.
And midway through the half, North Carolina went nearly 8 minutes between field goals by anyone other than Hansbrough.
"The first half was like pulling teeth," coach Roy Williams said. "I thought we were doing OK on the defensive end. We just couldn't make anything."
Ellington's 3-pointer 30 seconds after the break gave the Tar Heels their first double-figure lead, 36-25.
"We came out, we weren't making many shots -- nothing like last game," Ellington said. "In the second half, we started making some shots."