P.J. Hairston leads UNC to quarterfinal victory

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PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock celebrate after a 3-pointer by Hairston. Hairston scored a game high 21 points and was an effective 5-for-6 from beyond the arc.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — As the game slipped further and further out of North Carolina’s hands last Saturday against No. 3 Duke in the Tar Heels’ regular-season finale, P.J. Hairston, who finished 1-for-6 from long range, took desperation three after desperation three as he tried, to no avail, to get his team back within reach.

“I told them, I want us to learn from that game, I want us to hurt from that game, I want us to never forget how bad it was,” coach Roy Williams said after UNC’s 83-62 victory against Florida State on Friday. “But we’ve got to move on.”

Until that point, Hairston had been North Carolina’s go-to sharp shooter, especially since snagging a spot in the starting lineup. It was a title the Tar Heels needed him to redeem.

In UNC’s postseason premiere against the Seminoles, Hairston did exactly that. The sophomore guard finished 5-for-6 from behind the arc, helping the Tar Heels cruise to their ACC tournament quarterfinal victory.

“Needless to say, P.J. was big early because he was all of our offense,” Williams said.

Hairston, fourth in the conference in 3-pointers made so far this season and fifth in 3-point field goal percentage, made his first deep bucket less than three minutes into the game and hit four of the five he had in the game before halftime.

But for most of the first half, helped in part by UNC’s first-half 38 percent field goal shooting, the Seminoles were in striking distance.

With 1:26 to go before the break, Hairston capped off a UNC’s 12-2 run for his fourth 3-pointer of the evening, sinking it from the top of the key. As it swished and FSU coach Leonard Hamilton called a time out, Hairston turned to face the Greensboro Coliseum crowd, letting out an enthusiastic roar.

It’s just one example of how UNC has benefited from playing a smaller starting lineup, one that has featured Hairston since the Tar Heels’ Feb. 13 game against Duke.

“With us going small, I think some of the advantages we have is that we set a lot of traps…we can get out in transition,” Reggie Bullock said. “We have four ball-handlers on the floor.”

Hairston has now sunk at least four 3-pointers in seven games this season and at least one in 29th straight games, the longest current streak in the ACC. But Hairston wasn’t the only Tar Heel to find his sweet spot from the perimeter. UNC finished 10-for-22 from deep, with Bullock and Leslie McDonald also getting a pair each.

Less than two minutes into the second half, James Michael McAdoo picked up his third foul and Florida State slashed UNC’s lead to four with a pair of Michael Snaer 3-pointers. Hairston, who led all scorers Friday, quickly responded with his fifth and final deep bucket of the game.

With less than four minutes to play, the ball jammed between the middle and ring fingers on Hairston’s left hand, causing him to leave the court early and get eight stitches in his hand after the game.

But by then, he’d already done his part. And so even without their sharp-shooting leader on the sideline, his teammates, finishing what Hairston started, did theirs.

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