P.J. Hairston helps get Heels going, but will he remain UNC starter?

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 11:03 PM

Two years ago, Roy Williams made a switch in North Carolina’s starting lineup during conference play that propelled the Tar Heels to an ACC regular-season title.

Williams again made a midseason lineup change Wednesday night at No. 2 Duke, replacing center Desmond Hubert with fellow sophomore P.J. Hairston. And while it may not result in titles — and it didn’t stop the Blue Devils from winning 73-68 — the move did appear to jump start the Tar Heels (16-8, 6-5 ACC) and provide a measure of hope going forward despite a loss to the team’s biggest rival.

Hairston actually struggled at his top skill, 3-point shooting, by making just 1 of 7 from behind the arc. But he still scored a game-high 23 points, matched a career best and a team high with eight rebounds (seven offensive), had three of UNC’s eight assists (no other Tar Heel had more than one), had two of UNC’s three blocks and took two charges.

Perhaps just as tellingly, Hubert only played one minute and didn’t record a statistic. In fact, other than guard Leslie McDonald, the bench combined for one point and one rebound in 12 minutes as Williams basically went with a six-man rotation.

In 2011, Williams changed the starting point guard after a 12-5 start, replacing Larry Drew II with Kendall Marshall. Drew soon transferred, but the Tar Heels won 17 of their last 20 games.

Williams stuck with Marshall after that initial switch, but he wouldn’t make any promises this time with Hairston. After the Duke loss, Williams said he might start five different players when the Tar Heels host Virginia on Saturday (noon, WRAL).

When told all the starters played between 30-36 minutes, Williams added: “I was trying to win the dadgum game. … I may play five guys 40 minutes Saturday, or 12 guys in the first half.”

Hairston had one previous career start when UNC beat then-No. 20 UNLV — its only win against a ranked team this season — but that was because Reggie Bullock was out with a concussion. Since then, Williams had used the same starting lineup for every ACC game, though he said he had contemplated putting Hairston in 4-to-5 games ago.

He finally felt comfortable doing it Wednesday because Duke’s power forward — either Josh Hairston or Amile Jefferson — wasn’t a focal point in the Blue Devils’ offense and wouldn’t be a tough matchup for the 6-5 Hairston in the post.

The move did force 6-9 James Michael McAdoo to move from power forward to center, where he matched up with 6-10 senior Mason Plumlee of Duke, but the UNC sophomore said he didn’t mind playing that close to the basket.

“It was something I had to do a lot last year,” McAdoo said. “So I really just had to look in my bag of tricks and knowing I was giving up a lot of size, but I tried to do my best and do what I can do.”

On offense, Dexter Strickland — whose 14 points were the most he’s had in ACC play — said that Hairston’s presence helped give the guards space to drive, since Hairston’s defender had to stay with him on the perimeter. Strickland also thought the small lineup helped UNC get out on the break faster.

With Hairston in the lineup, UNC actually led at the first timeout for the first time in nine road games, and it kept the lead for the entire first half. Hairston was also out for two minutes when the Tar Heels went on a 5-minute scoreless run midway through the second half.

Still, Williams said the decision on who to start in the future isn’t as clear-cut as some observers assume it would be.

“Everybody’s saying, ‘Well you’re going to put P.J. in for someone else,’” Williams said. “But nobody knows my team. It’s popular to say who the (heck) is supposed to be in the lineup when you don’t know what the dickens you’re talking about.”

For instance, Williams said he might not start Hairston if the opponent has two 6-11 starters.

“I still think it depends on who you’re playing,” Williams said.

No. 2 Duke 73, North Carolina 68

Feb. 13 Game Summary

NORTH CAROLINA  MP    FG    FT    O-R    A    F    PTS
Dexter Strickland    34    5-8    4-4    0-2    0    3    14
Marcus Paige    30    2-9    0-0    2-5    1    3    4
P.J. Hairston    34    8-18    6-8    7-8    3    3    23
Reggie Bullock    36    5-10    1-4    3-8    1    4    15
James Michael McAdoo    34    4-12    1-5    4-8    1    3    9
Leslie McDonald    20    1-6    0-0    2-4    1    0    2
Brice Johnson    4    0-2    0-0    0-1    0    0    0
Desmond Hubert    1    0-0    0-0    0-0    0    0    0
Jackson Simmons    4    0-0    0-0    0-0    0    1    0
J.P. Tokoto    3    0-1    1-2    0-0    1    1    1
Totals    200    25-66    13-23    20-38    8    18    68

Percentages: FG .379, FT .565. 3-Point Goals: 5-18, .278 (Bullock 4-7, Hairston 1-7, Paige 0-1, McDonald 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 3 (Hairston 2, Paige). Turnovers: 13 (Hairston 3, Strickland 2, Bullock 2, McAdoo 2, Tokoto, Paige, Johnson, McDonald). Steals: 8 (McAdoo 2, Paige 2, Hairston, Strickland, McDonald, Bullock). Technical Fouls: None.

DUKE    MP    FG    FT    O-R    A    F    PTS
Quinn Cook    37    6-12    6-6    0-6    2    4    18
Mason Plumlee    35    6-13    6-8    4-11    0    4    18
Rasheed Sulaimon    38    5-11    2-2    0-2    5    4    13
Josh Hairston    9    1-2    0-0    0-2    1    2    2
Seth Curry    29    3-10    3-4    2-5    1    4    11
Tyler Thornton    28    3-4    0-0    2-3    0    2    9
Alex Murphy    3    0-0    0-0    0-0    0    0    0
Amile Jefferson    20    1-4    0-0    3-8    0    2    2
Marshall Plumlee    1    0-0    0-0    0-0    0    0    0
Totals    200    25-56    17-20    12-39    9    22    73

Percentages: FG .446, FT .850. 3-Point Goals: 6-16, .375 (Thornton 3-4, Curry 2-5, Sulaimon 1-4, Cook 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 2 (Mas. Plumlee, Curry). Turnovers: 17 (Cook 5, Mas. Plumlee 4, Sulaimon 4, Curry 2, Thornton, Hairston). Steals: 6 (Cook 4, Jefferson, Mas. Plumlee). Technical Fouls: None.

North Carolina    33    35—68
Duke    29    44—73

A—9,314. Officials—Karl Hess, Mike Eades, Bryan Kersey.