UNC's Hairston, McDonald to sit out against Holy Cross tonight
When asked who the best player has been during North Carolina’s practices, coach Roy Williams leaves no doubt.
“P.J. Hairston,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “It’s not even close.”
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, Williams was far less definitive about when Hairston would finally get to show off those skills in a game.
Last year’s leading scorer — and teammate Leslie McDonald, the team’s lone scholarship senior — will be sitting out once again when No. 12 UNC (1-0) hosts Holy Cross tonight at the Smith Center (8 p.m., ESPNU).
Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Thursday that the university and the NCAA “are still working together to resolve an eligibility issue,” and that there’s no timetable for a final decision.
“It’s what it is,” Williams said. “Everybody’s trying to do their best. We’re trying to move along.”
Hairston and McDonald are still participating fully in practices, though the two projected starters have been playing more with the backups to allow the new lineup to build chemistry.
“I think everybody feels for them,” Williams said. “They’ve been great teammates through all this. They’ve been wonderful in practice, they’re pushing the other guys, they’ve been quality teammates every day.”
With the team’s two best shooters in limbo, UNC got a sense of how much potential is still on the roster in the season opener last Friday against Oakland — and also how much the duo might be missed.
The Tar Heels shot 74.2 percent in the first half — the best shooting performance in a half since Williams came to UNC — while holding Oakland to 20.7 percent shooting that included a nine-minute span in which the Golden Grizzlies didn’t make a field goal.
But after taking a 37-point lead in the break, UNC struggled with outside shooting and turnovers in the second half and was outscored 40-26.
When asked which half was more indicative of his team’s ability, Williams said it was “probably somewhere in-between”
“The first half, we played better then than we have in any day of practice, and the second half we played about as poorly as we had in any day of practice. (In the first half) all the marginal passes went through and turned into layups. The second half the marginal passes turned into turnovers.”
The performance was most exemplified by sophomore small forward J.P. Tokoto, who took Hairston’s spot in the starting rotation. Tokoto scored 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting in the first half, with four assists and one turnover. Then he missed all five shots in the second half, with one assist and four turnovers.
“He understands what he can do,” Williams said. “And now he just has to keep the concentration and the discipline to make sure he plays like the guy in the first half and not like the guy in the second half.”
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige said that the more minutes Tokoto receives, the more comfortable he will become. He also thought the first-half performance against Oakland could be important for the young Tar Heels.
“That goes a long way confidence-wise,” Paige said. “ In practice you have ups and downs and you have coach getting on you, but to see what he’s been preaching translate to the game as well as it did in the first half, it helps you believe in what we’re doing here, what we’re trying to get accomplish and what kind of team we could be.”
Of course, the biggest boost of confidence could be if UNC gets a positive ruling on Hairston and McDonald. The school has not specified the issues involved, though Hairston was pulled over twice by police while driving rental cars connected to a Durham party promoter and McDonald endorsed a commercial product over social media, which could be considered NCAA violations.
“I’m honestly extremely frustrated,” Paige said of the drawn-out process. “I know a lot of us are. It’s tough. It would just be nice to know so we can move on. But that’s not in my power, so that’s all I’ve got to say about that.”
NOTES — UNC and Holy Cross haven’t met since the Tar Heels won 83-70 in Boston Garden during their 1956-57 undefeated NCAA championship season. … So far this season, Holy Cross (1-1) has lost to Harvard 82-72 and beaten Sacred Heart 122-118 in double overtime.