PJ Hairston comes up big in win over Georgia Tech

Wednesday afternoon, just hours before North Carolina’s matchup with Georgia Tech, coach Roy Williams announced that guard Leslie McDonald would miss the next three games while serving a suspension for an unexplained reason.

On the surface, it was a big blow for the Tar Heels. As far as P.J. Hairston was concerned, it was just one more motive to step up.

Hairston, just a week removed from his career day in a win against Florida State, scored 15 points Wednesday night in UNC’s 79-63 victory against the Yellow Jackets.

But possibly more significant for the Tar Heels, Hairston represented a bench presence that will still be felt in McDonald’s absence.

Before missing the last three games due to an ongoing knee injury, McDonald had been the Tar Heels’ leading scorer in wins against Mississippi State, University of Alabama–Birmingham and East Tennessee State.

“Of course I felt bad for him. We all want Leslie out here. But it is what it is. We have to keep moving,” Hairston said.

“I just have to come off and contribute and do all the little things to help my team.”

Hairston started the game strong, posting eight first half points in eight minutes on the court. At the 15:03 mark, Hairston asserted his presence early by sinking a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner of the floor, just steps away from the Georgia Tech bench.

Less than three minutes later, as if to ensure his opponents hadn’t forgotten about him, he did it again from the same spot, right under the Yellow Jackets’ noses.

Wednesday night’s version of Hairston is a far cry from the one that showed up in UNC’s 62-52 win against Maryland, during which the guard went 1-for-8 from the field.

“We don’t have (consistency from him) yet,” Williams said. “But we’ve got to get consistency out of him if he wants to be the big-time player that we need him to be.”

Against the Yellow Jackets, Hairston posted his 10th double-digit scoring performance. He’s proven to be a constant contributor. That’s why Dexter Strickland said he’s not concerned about Hairston’s on-and-off again outings.

“Even Ray Allen, one time, he was 0-for-12, and he’s considered the best shooter ever,” he said. “You’re going to have nights like that. … A shooter keeps shooting.”

In what would be his final basket of the night, Hairston took a post-steal pass from Strickland and, putting an exclamation point on an already standout showing, leapt in the air for a one-handed dunk over Yellow Jacket big man Daniel Miller.

The Smith Center crowd, which would soon break out with a chant heralding his name, went wild as a stone-faced Hairston backpedaled away from the basket.

“I already had my mind made up I was going to be dunking it,” Hairston said. “But little did I know I was going to be dunking on a 6-11 center.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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