Lawson taking over for Tar Heels at right time
Published 4:31 am Wednesday, February 18, 2009
By By AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
CHAPEL HILL — Like a true point guard, Ty Lawson figures he has to take care of his high-scoring North Carolina teammates by getting them the ball as much as possible.
But considering how he is playing these days, maybe he should keep it in his hands a little longer.
In the past month, Lawson has hit a running 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Florida State, turned in a dominating second-half performance in college basketball’s most hostile arena and followed that with a series of clutch 3s to win again on the road just a few days later.
While most preseason talk about North Carolina focused on the return of reigning national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough, Lawson — who flirted with the NBA after last season — has proven to be the third-ranked Tar Heels’ most valuable and irreplaceable player. When he plays well, North Carolina has been difficult to beat. And it’s no coincidence his two worst performances this year coincided with the Tar Heels’ 0-2 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Lawson has played well all season for the Tar Heels (23-2, 9-2 ACC). The speedy, 5-foot-11 junior ranks among the league leaders in scoring (15.9 points), assists (6.4), steals (2.1) and shooting (55.6 percent). The difference of late has been how he has aggressively taken the lead when the game hangs in the balance.
Lawson has made it all look as simple as it sounds.
On Jan. 28, he took an inbound pass with 3.2 seconds left, raced downcourt and swished a 3 for an 80-77 road win against the Seminoles, capping a 21-point game.
Three games later, Lawson took over at Cameron Indoor Stadium, repeatedly making Duke’s Greg Paulus and anyone else who guarded him look helpless. He scored 21 of his season-high 25 points after halftime, helping the Tar Heels build a 17-point lead — a rare big deficit for the home team on the court that bears Mike Krzyzewski’s name — before earning a 101-87 victory.
Then, on Sunday, Lawson scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half against Miami, including the game-sealing 3-pointer with 10.6 seconds left in the 69-65 win. He finished with a career-high five 3s despite battling a bug all day that left him congested and with a sore throat.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Lawson’s game has been his outside shooting. He is shooting 49 percent from 3-point range on the season, including 11-for-19 (58 percent) in the past four games as the Tar Heels have taken control of the ACC title chase.
Compare that to his play in losses to Boston College and Wake Forest in January, when he averaged 9.5 points and 4.5 assists while shooting 28 percent. Making matters worse, he was soundly outplayed by BC’s Tyrese Rice (25 points) and Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague (34 points).
Lawson missed Monday’s practice as he recovers from the bug, though he felt well enough to joke around with the coaching staff during workouts. Williams has long referred to Lawson as ‘‘Dennis the Menace’’ for his playful antics, including once when Lawson snuck up behind Williams and picked a $20 bill from his pocket.
Occasionally, Williams has noticed and been able to slap Lawson’s hand away. It’s one of the few times anyone’s fast enough to keep up with him.