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The Daily Tar Heel

Hairston emerges as team’s main threat

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Though the North Carolina men’s basketball team was wearing its road-blue jerseys in Sunday’s ACC Championship game against Miami, one Tar Heel in particular felt right at home.

Sophomore P.J. Hairston, a Greensboro native, finished off his impressive ACC Tournament run with 28 points in the Tar Heels’ 87-77 loss to Miami.

In high school, Hairston didn’t have much success in the Greensboro Coliseum, but thanks to three strong performances, he should have better memories now. His determined play was foreshadowed by his attitude before the tournament.

“It’s business,” Hairston said on March 11 as the Tar Heels looked forward to the tournament. “It’s not vacation. I’m excited to be home and playing in front of my home crowd, but at the same time its business and there’s work to be done.”

Hairston didn’t waste any time getting to work. In Friday night’s win against Florida State, Hairston made five 3-pointers on his way to 21 points. In the closing minutes of the 83-62 win, Hairston split the webbing between the ring and middle fingers on his left hand and needed stitches.

Though he described the pain as nearly unbearable at the time, it didn’t stop him from playing on Saturday and again on Sunday with a heavily taped hand.

“It felt ?ne,” Hairston said after Sunday’s game. “(It) didn’t bother me at all. Just the thought of me having 10 stitches in my left hand stopped me from trying to reach or trying to do certain things, but other than that I still played through it.”

Hairston and the rest of the Tar Heels came out hot in the title game, and by halftime, the sophomore sharpshooter had already drained four 3-pointers. The Tar Heels made eight as a team in the half and trailed the Hurricanes by just three.

That hot start was likely the result of the Tar Heels’ revenge-seeking mentality.

“Last time we played them … it frustrated us to see them,” Hairston said. “They were having fun against us, so we wanted to come out today and play with the intensity that we haven’t played with against Miami, that Miami hadn’t seen, and surprise them.”

But the No. 1-seeded Hurricanes found a way to handle UNC’s hot start, as Jim Larranaga went with a smaller lineup later in the game.

The Hurricanes held UNC to just eight points between the eight-minute mark and the final 30 seconds, and Hairston’s shooting performance was overshadowed by the dominance of tournament MVP Shane Larkin.

Still, the Tar Heels are 8-3 since Roy Williams inserted Hairston into the starting lineup. But Williams insists that the change isn’t the cause of the team’s success, but rather everyone on the team has stepped up his game.

“I think the lineup change is something that just happened — talk’s (been) too much about coaching,” Williams said. “Every one of my players got better, and that was the biggest deal.”

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