Hairston, Tar Heels gunning for Terps
North Carolina coach Roy Williams didn’t need to watch the ball. He just watched P.J. Hairston’s feet.
Last week in practice, Williams said he correctly predicted all three of Hairston’s 3-point attempts — make, make, miss — just by checking to see if the sophomore kicked out his right foot. It’s a habit Hairston has been trying to break since he got to UNC.
“Somebody that’s supposed to be a great shooter has got to go up, be balanced, have both feet on the ground, come back down hopefully in the same spot and be balanced when you come down,” Williams said.
“It’s not the only factor, but you’re never going to be a good shooter if you don’t have good balance. I don’t care who you are.”
Hairston hasn’t been able to completely stop kicking out his right foot. But he has become a more comfortable and confident shooter recently.
Since he was inserted into the starting lineup three weeks ago against Duke, Hairston is leading the team at 16.8 points per game heading into today’s game at Maryland (7 p.m., ESPN).
When the Terrapins (20-9, 8-8 ACC) played in the Smith Center on Jan. 19, James Michael McAdoo and Reggie Bullock scored 43 of the Tar Heels’ 62 points, while Hairston was held to just three. But Hairston has hit double-figures in every game since, and in Sunday’s 79-58 win over Florida State, UNC’s three top scorers each put up at least 16 points and combined to shoot 65 percent (24 of 37).
“It’s like a triple-barrel gun — all of us shooting at the same time,” Hairston said. “It’s hard to stop us.”
McAdoo said he couldn’t come up with that kind of imagery, but he agreed with the sentiment.
“I’m not that creative,” McAdoo said. “It’s just a great day when all of us are playing well. Surprisingly, it hasn’t happened that much, but I think it’s going to happen a lot more. I think we’re all just too good players not to get it going and affect the game.”
Currently alone in third place thanks to a five-game winning streak, the Tar Heels will clinch a top-four seed in the ACC Tournament and a first-round bye if they win either tonight or Saturday against Duke. If UNC loses both games, it can end up fifth behind Virginia and N.C. State, which both are 10-6 in the ACC.
While it’s always important to win games, Williams said that falling to the No. 5 seed wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“I don’t think it ends your season if you end up fifth,” Williams said. “It just means you play on the first day. In some ways, you get a little bit of a head start by having one game under your belt and not have opening-night jitters in the tournament that somebody else would have when you play them on the second day.”
N.C. State was the No. 5 seed a year ago when it advanced to the ACC semifinals and then the NCAA Sweet 16.
Last trip to Maryland?
With the Terrapins leaving for the Big Ten in 2014-15, this could be UNC’s final conference game at Maryland.
“I hate it because I think Maryland has been part of the ACC for a long time, but they chose to do what they thought was best for their school and their athletic department,” Williams said. “Those kinds of things are out of control of the coaches. The whole scenario is so ridiculous. Who knows what’s going to happen next?”
The Tar Heels lead the series with Maryland 119-57, including a 46-36 record in College Park.