GREENSBORO — In the final game of the regular season, North Carolina learned what could happen – what would happen – when it failed to create quality shots on the perimeter. The Tar Heels’ lopsided loss against Duke was a painful lesson for a team that had been shooting well, mostly, since mid-February.
The struggles from the perimeter, though, proved to be short-lived. UNC regained its outside touch during its 83-62 victory against Florida State here on Friday night in the ACC tournament quarterfinals at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The victory, though, came with a price: P.J. Hairston, the sophomore guard who led UNC (23-9, 13-6 ACC) with 21 points, left the game late in the second half after suffering a gash between the ring finger and middle finger on his left hand. The cut was so deep it required eight stitches.
“We’re extremely concerned right now,” UNC coach Roy Williams said of Hairston. “His hand is torn up … it doesn’t look good. I saw where it was split.”
Hairston’s status is in doubt for the Heels’ game today against Maryland in the tournament semifinals. The seventh-seeded Terrapins' 83-74 victory against No. 2 seed Duke represents the surprise of the tournament so far. A team spokesman said Hairston would likely try to play, and that a decision about his status wouldn’t likely be made until shortly before tip-off today.
Hairston’s injury put a damper on an otherwise strong performance from third-seeded UNC, which led 35-27 at halftime and pulled away early in the second half to advance to the tournament semifinals. At least on paper, Maryland represents a much more favorable matchup for UNC than Duke would have.
The Heels played one of their finest halves of the season in the first half of a 62-52 victory against Maryland on Jan. 19, and then UNC overcame a late Maryland rally during a 79-68 victory last week against the Terrapins in the Comcast Center.
In that game, the Tar Heels demonstrated some toughness. They did again on Friday night.
The first half was ugly, at times, while the Heels struggled to find their rhythm on offense. But they didn’t panic, like they did against Duke last weekend, and they didn’t rush shots, like they have at other points this season when things haven’t gone their way.
“This definitely helps with our confidence, coming in here and getting a big-time win,” said Reggie Bullock, the UNC junior guard who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. “… This is when we have to be playing our best basketball. Coach always preaches to us about in the tournament, it’s time to play our best basketball and we played it tonight.”
UNC relied on its defense early, and scored 14 first-half points off of the Seminoles’ 10 turnovers. Meanwhile, James Michael McAdoo and Hairston provided enough offense to compensate for an otherwise disjointed offensive effort.
McAdoo, active early, scored 10 of his 12 points during the first half before fouling out with about five minutes to play. And Hairston took advantage of what little room the Seminoles provided him to shoot on the outside.
Hairston missed five of his six 3-point attempts last week during that 69-53 loss against Duke. But in the first half here on Friday night, he made four of his five 3-point attempts, some of them from well beyond the 3-point line. All 12 of Hairston’s points in the first half came on those four 3s.
He made his fifth 3-pointer a few minutes of the second half.
Try as they might to get back into the game, the Seminoles (18-14, 10-9) couldn’t. UNC led 35-27 at halftime, and the Seminoles cut their deficit to four with 17:22 to play. But then Hairston made his fifth 3, which ignited a run.
After Michael Snaer missed a 3-pointer for Florida State, Marcus Paige, the UNC point guard who finished with a career-high 10 assists, made a jump shot.
The Seminoles missed another 3, this one from Okaro White, and Bullock made a 3 on the other side. After another stop, Bullock then completed a three-point play to push UNC’s lead to 15 with 14:58 to play.
From there, Florida State never cut the Tar Heels’ lead into single digits.
After shooting 37.5 percent in the first half, UNC shot 60 percent in the second half, and nearly 50 percent overall. In the loss against Duke last week, the Tar Heels made just one of their 14 3-point attempts. But they made 10 of their 22 3s against Florida State.
During the second half, the only negative for UNC was Hairston’s injury. After bleeding on the court, the UNC training staff led him off the floor and back into the team locker room area, where he later received the stitches.
Williams said that if Hairston is unable to play, he’d likely use a more traditional, bigger starting lineup.
“We’ve been ready for it, ever since (Williams) went back to the small lineup,” said Brice Johnson, the freshman forward who could start today if Hairston is unable to play.
The Tar Heels earlier this week about believing that they could – and would – respond well from loss against Duke on senior night. And respond well they did, before suffering another blow of adversity with Hairston’s injury.