- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Texas coach Rick Barnes has watched A.J. Abrams long enough that he can sometimes tell when his senior sharpshooter is getting ready for a run.

“When he starts getting separation and gets his feet set and his balance,” Barnes said, “he’s one of those guys that you’re really surprised when he misses.”

For a stretch Thursday, Abrams didn’t look like he would.

Abrams hit eight 3-pointers and scored 26 points to help Texas beat Minnesota 76-62 in the first round of the East Regional on Thursday, helping the Longhorns win their NCAA tournament opener for the fourth straight season.

The seventh-seeded Longhorns advanced to Saturday’s second round to play Duke, which beat Binghamton 86-62 in the day’s last game at the Greensboro Coliseum. Earlier Thursday, North Carolina beat Radford 101-58 in the first round of the South Regional, while LSU beat Butler 75-71 to earn a matchup with the Tar Heels.

Abrams had a run of six straight 3s to blow open a close game and give Texas (23-11) a comfortable lead midway through the second half. He finished one shy of a career high for made 3s and picked right up where he left off in last year’s tournament, when he helped Texas get within a game of the Final Four.

He looked so relaxed that he heard questions afterward about how he manages to stay so calm in the postseason. Even he didn’t really have an answer.

“I guess I’m just kind of a laid-back person,” he said. “I don’t let the excitement just overwhelm me. I guess that’s what it is. But I know these games are high stakes.”

Lawrence Westbrook scored 19 points for the 10th-seeded Gophers (22-11), who were making their first tournament appearance since 2005. It was also Minnesota’s first NCAA bid under Tubby Smith, who left Kentucky two seasons ago to rebuild the struggling Big Ten program.

Minnesota got off to its best start in more than 30 years at 16-1, but closed the season by losing 10 of 16.

The Gophers got the start they wanted Thursday, jumping to a 10-point lead in the opening 3 1/2 minutes, but the Longhorns hung around until Abrams found his range and turned the game into an impressive shooting display.

He ended the half by getting free on a screen from Connor Atchley and making a 3 just before the horn for a 39-35 lead. That turned out to be the first of six in a row, including a run of 3s on four straight possessions that turned a close game into a 59-44 lead with 10:57 to play.

Minnesota didn’t get closer than 12 points the rest of the way.

“We didn’t get our hands up,” Smith said. “With a good shooter, you’ve got to get your hands up. You can’t have your hands down. You’ve got to make him put it on the floor. We never made him.”

Duke 86, Binghamton 62, East Region

Jon Scheyer scored 15 points to lead six players in double figures in Duke’s win against Binghamton, which was making its first appearance in the tournament.

Lance Thomas added 14 points and Gerald Henderson and Nolan Smith each had 13 for the Blue Devils (29-6), the No. 2 seed. They shot 49 percent and put the game away with a huge run to open the second half.

It was quite the emphatic reversal of results for a program that entered having lost three of its last four NCAA tournament games, falling to VCU in the first round in 2007 and West Virginia in the second round last year. In addition, Duke needed some dramatic play late to beat 15th-seeded Belmont in last season’s first round.

D.J. Rivera scored 20 points for Binghamton (23-9).

North Carolina 101, Radford 58, South Region

Tyler Hansbrough set the Atlantic Coast Conference career scoring record and finished with 22 points to help top-seeded North Carolina beat 16th-seeded Radford.

Wayne Ellington scored 25 points to lead the Tar Heels (29-4), who played without injured point guard Ty Lawson for a third straight game but had no trouble with the Highlanders (21-12). North Carolina improved to 26-1 in NCAA games played in its home state and had a huge home-crowd advantage in an arena located about an hourlong drive from its campus.

Hansbrough needed three points to pass Duke’s J.J. Redick for the ACC mark. He tied it on a layup about 3 1/2 minutes in, then broke the record on a free throw with 15:43 left in the half.

Amir Johnson and Joey Lynch-Flohr each scored 12 points to lead Radford.

LSU 75, Butler 71, South Region

Marcus Thornton scored 30 points and LSU held off a late rally to beat Butler.

Tasmin Mitchell had 14 points and Chris Johnson added 12 points for the eighth-seeded Tigers (27-7), who had missed the tournament the past two seasons since reaching the Final Four in 2006.

Matt Howard scored 22 points before fouling out with 35.7 seconds left for No. 9 seed Butler, which twice pulled within three points in the final minute. The last time came when Willie Veasley tipped in Gordon Hayward’s missed 3 with 5.4 seconds left to make it 74-71, before Johnson hit one of two free throws to seal it.

Butler hadn’t lost in the first round of the tournament since 2000.

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