Hairston, Tar Heels put away Cavs
Having finally entered the starting lineup this week, North Carolina sophomore P.J. Hairston has no intention of going back to the bench.
Hairston put up 29 points, the most in a game by a Tar Heel this season, as UNC outscored Virginia 93-81 on Saturday at the Smith Center in an important matchup between two teams that needed a quality win to help their postseason chances.
Hairston’s shooting — he was 6-of-12 from 3-point range — ignited an offensive explosion against the Cavaliers (18-7, 8-4 ACC), who were second in the NCAA in points allowed (52.3) and hadn’t given up 70 points in a game this season.
The Tar Heels (17-8, 7-5) reached 71 with 9:15 left and scored 53 points in the second half alone, topping their total in a 61-52 defeat last month in Charlottesville.
That loss in Virginia was one of 12 straight starts for center Desmond Hubert while UNC coach Roy Williams utilized a conventional lineup. But Williams changed course Wednesday at Duke, putting the 6-5 Hairston in and leaving forward James Michael McAdoo as the only post player.
Hairston has responded with 52 points in 15 rebounds against Duke and Virginia, including seven rebounds Saturday, and his presence seems to have inspired the entire team.
“We’re playing harder, and I don’t know if they think we have to play harder because we’re so small out there,” Williams said. “For us, it gives us better spacing, more guys who can score, better opportunities to drive.”
Guards Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland combined for 29 points, nine assists and three turnovers, Reggie Bullock had 11 points, four assists and four steals, and McAdoo had nine points and 10 rebounds.
Williams said his primary concern with the small lineup was rebounding, but the Tar Heels had a 33-24 edge on the glass against Virginia and were outrebounded by just one at Duke. Besides, Hairston’s presence on the perimeter opens up the court for others.
“Him on the floor is making everyone better,” Strickland said. “I started drooling (at Duke), man. In the first half, there were plenty of opportunities to drive to the basket and get those easy layups. As you saw (today), the lane was wide open.”
Hairston wasn’t the only hot shooter. Virginia junior Joe Harris, the ACC’s most accurate 3-point shooter at 48.4 percent, scored a career-high 27 points — the most by a UNC opponent this season — and made 4 of 6 from long range.
The Cavs made six of their first seven from behind the arc and led 29-19 with nine minutes left in the first half. Virginia wound up shooting 58.5 percent for the game, but UNC led the entire the second half after scoring eight straight points to break a 40-40 tie at halftime.
Hairston’s final 3-pointer put the Tar Heels up by 18 with 5:37 remaining.
“(You) think they’re a little smaller, so maybe we can exploit them inside or they won’t hurt us on the glass,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “But they have some long angles to rebound from, shot a lot of 3s, and when they’re hitting and you’re not doing a whole lot to stop it, it’s going to be a long night.”
Williams credited Hubert with three deflections in the sophomore’s one minute of action, but it’s unlikely that will be enough for the center to get back in the starting five Tuesday night when UNC travels to Georgia Tech.
When asked if he would stick with the small lineup going forward, Williams responded: “I don’t know. If you score 29 points, that’s not a very good reason to keep you in the game.”
NOTES — McAdoo received one stitch on his lower lip after a collision in the final minute. ... UNC center Joel James missed his second straight game with a concussion. ... Tyler Zeller’s jersey was honored at halftime. Tyler Hansbrough, Kendall Marshall and John Henson also were in town during the NBA’s All-Star weekend and sat behind the UNC bench.
UNC 93, Virginia 81
Percentages: FG .585, FT .636. 3-Point Goals: 12-21, .571 (Harris 4-6, Jesperson 3-5, Nolte 2-5, Evans 1-1, Barnette 1-1, Jones 1-2, Anderson 0-1). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 2 (Anderson, Harris). Turnovers: 14 (Evans 6, Harris 3, Mitchell 2, Jesperson, Jones, Anderson). Steals: 7 (Evans 2, Harris 2, Jesperson 2, Nolte).
Percentages: FG .492, FT .733. 3-Point Goals: 13-28, .464 (Hairston 6-12, Paige 3-5, Bullock 3-7, McDonald 1-4). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 2 (McAdoo, Bullock). Turnovers: 7 (McAdoo 3, Paige 2, Strickland, Bullock). Steals: 11 (Bullock 4, Paige 2, Johnson, McAdoo, Hubert, Strickland, Hairston).
A—20,616. Officials—Les Jones, Tim Kelly, Jerry Heater.