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2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ellington helps North Carolina rout Arkansas 108-77



AP Photo/Mel Evans

North Carolina's Wayne Ellington drives to the basket over Arkansas' Patrick Beverley (21) and Sonny Weems in the first half of a second-round NCAA East Regional basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, March 23, 2008.

— North Carolina made everything look easy in its first two NCAA tournament games, from running out to big early leads to cracking the 100-point mark with plenty of time left on the clock.

The only people who don't sound all that impressed are, well, those same Tar Heels.

"We don't think that winning two games in the NCAA tournament is a huge success for us," junior Marcus Ginyard said.

Fair enough. But even the hard-to-please coach of the tournament's overall No. 1 seed can't deny how sharp his team looked here after the Tar Heels' 108-77 rout of Arkansas in Sunday's second round. Now Roy Williams' team - after putting on a show for its home-state fans - is off and running to the round of 16, where another comfortable setting awaits.

Wayne Ellington scored 20 points and the Tar Heels (34-2) raced to a double-digit lead in the first 5 minutes to earn a trip to the East Regional semifinals in Charlotte, located about two hours southwest of their Chapel Hill campus. They will face fourth-seeded Washington State on Thursday night in the same arena where they won last weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Ty Lawson added 19 points and seven assists for the Tar Heels, who followed their first-round rout of Mount St. Mary's with a similar offensive display. They scored the first nine points, led 51-26 at halftime and shot 68 percent for the game. Along the way, North Carolina became the first team to score 100 points in its first two NCAA games since Loyola Marymount did it against New Mexico State and Michigan in 1990.

The ninth-seeded Razorbacks (23-12), which upset Vanderbilt and Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference tournament in Atlanta last week, never got closer than 21 points after the break.

"We were pretty doggone good," Williams said. "We really were."

It marked only the third time in the past 25 years that the Tar Heels won both of their first two NCAA games by 20 or more points. The only other teams to do it - 1993 and 2005 - went on to win the national championship. The Tar Heels also tied the school's single-season record for victories, matching the '93 team and the 1998 squad that reached the Final Four in San Antonio.

This year's group is determined to get back there, driven by memories of a second-half collapse against Georgetown in last year's regional finals.

"We've got another two-game tournament to play next weekend," Ginyard said. "And that's what we're focused on right now. At this point, this game does not mean anything to us any more. This is just not where this team wants to end up."

The Tar Heels looked every bit like the tournament's top seed in its first two games at the RBC Center, located about a half-hour from Chapel Hill and home to rival North Carolina State. Playing in front of a blue-clad crowd, North Carolina made Arkansas look as helpless as the 16th-seeded Mountaineers did in Friday night's 113-74 win.

"It makes us feel good, like we're doing our job and doing exactly what Coach wants us to do," Lawson said. "The last two games, he hasn't said, 'You need to run more.' I guess we finally found out how much he wants us to run."

The Razorbacks looked nothing like the team that beat Indiana 86-72 in the first round to secure the program's first NCAA win since 1999. Sonny Weems had a career-high 31 points on 12-for-14 shooting in that game, but finished with 19 on 8-for-20 shooting against the Tar Heels.

Afterward, coach John Pelphrey said the Tar Heels were the best team Arkansas had played all season, going as far to quip, "We probably could've started six today, and I don't know if that would've helped or not."

"If they play like this, I don't think anybody in the nation can beat them," Weems said. "They're not the No. 1 team in the nation for no reason."

The Tar Heels didn't get a particularly big day from All-American Tyler Hansbrough, who finished with 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting. But he made five of seven free throws, which allowed him to surpass Duke's Christian Laettner for the most made free throws in a career for an ACC player.

Deon Thompson finished with 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting for North Carolina, and frontcourt mate Alex Stepheson had 10 on 5-for-5 shooting. Eleven players scored for the Tar Heels, and Williams was able to empty his bench and give his regulars plenty of time to cheer from the sideline for the second straight game.

"We know we're capable of it," Ellington said of the team's 100-point production. "We've done it before. When we have everybody contributing the way we are, we know we can do that night in and night out."


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