UNC defeats Boston College, 82-70; Hairston gets concussion

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 30, 2013 

— There wasn’t anything special that North Carolina coach Roy Williams told his players after P.J. Hairston, the Tar Heels’ sophomore guard, suffered a concussion that left him woozy and wobbly late in the first half at Boston College.

“Basically the old clichés,” Williams said following UNC’s 82-70 victory against the Eagles. In the locker room at halftime, Williams mentioned the fact that Leslie McDonald, one of the team’s best perimeter shooters, was back home serving the final game of a three-game suspension.

“And now one of our guys (Hairston) is down laying back on the training table,” Williams said he told his team. “So everybody’s got to pull together even harder. That’s and old cliché and it’s coach-talk, but I believe it’s true, too.”

It was also true that the Tar Heels (14-6, 4-3 ACC) needed this kind of game – a bounce-back victory after a difficult, emotionally draining loss at N.C. State on Saturday. The Heels played poorly during the first half of that game, and again started slowly against the Eagles (9-11, 1-6) Tuesday.

But not for long. After about three minutes, Hairston entered the game and promptly made a pair of 3-pointers on consecutive possessions. After those two 3s, Reggie Bullock made another. Just like that, the Tar Heels had erased an early 8-2 deficit and taken a lead that they’d never relinquish.

Hairston went on to make all four of his 3-point attempts in the first half. He was fouled on another and made two of the three free throws. But one of his best halves of the season ended when he absorbed an elbow to the head from teammate Dexter Strickland.

UNC was on defense at the time with about four minutes to play before halftime, when Boston College guard Patrick Heckmann drove the left baseline for a layup. Hairston and Strickland were both near the basket when Strickland inadvertently elbowed Hairston in the face.

Hairston fell to the court, where he remained for several minutes. He fell again after a group of walk-on players attempted to help him walk off. Eventually, officials called for a stretcher and medical personnel wheeled Hairston into the training room, where he was diagnosed with a concussion.

“It was scary,” UNC freshman point guard Marcus Paige said. “Because I thought he’d be all right, and then he kind of did the little stumble.”

The Tar Heels led by 11 when Hairston left the game, and they led 48-33 at halftime. The 48 points were the second-most they’d scored in a half against an ACC opponent, and they shot 52.9 percent.

Even amid the slow start, UNC appeared to play with more of the urgency that Williams wants to see – and the kind he didn’t see during the loss against N.C. State. The Heels rebounded 13 of their misses, and turned those second-chance opportunities into 20 points.

UNC forced just 10 turnovers, but the Tar Heels held Boston College to 41.9 percent shooting during the second half. The Eagles, who generate more points from 3-pointers than any team in the ACC, made just two of their 10 3-point attempts during the final 20 minutes.

“(Williams) saw me down on that ground for that one ball,” James Michael McAdoo, the sophomore forward, said of UNC’s hustle. “That’s stuff we’ve got to do.”

McAdoo led UNC with 17 points, nine of which came in the second half after Hairston’s injury. Hairston left the game after scoring 14 points in 12 minutes. His mother came out of the stands to be by his side while he struggled to stand, and while he left the court on a stretcher.

Earlier in the week, Williams criticized Hairston’s lack of effort on one play during the loss at N.C. State. That one lapse landed Hairston on the bench for a prolonged period. Williams on Tuesday said Hairston didn’t have much of a chance to make hustle plays against Boston College but that “he had an opportunity to make a bunch of shots.”

“I tell you what,” Williams said. “He looked like he was about as hot as I’ve ever seen him in my life.”

The Tar Heels cooled in the second half, when they made 42.9 percent of their attempts from the field. Even so, whenever Boston College – led by 22 points from Olivier Hanlan – attempted to get back into the game, McAdoo, or Bullock (eight points) or Dexter Strickland (14) seemed to respond.

The Eagles never cut UNC’s lead into single digits during the second half. Afterward, Williams said at first that he “didn’t like the look on our guys’ faces” after Hairston’s injury.

Unlike in other moments this season, though, the Tar Heels persevered through some adversity and responded from a deflating defeat with a much-needed victory.

OBSERVATIONS

-- Not only was this an overall bounce-back game for UNC, but it was also one for two players in desperate need of a boost. The Tar Heels’ backcourt duo of Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland combined for one of their worst games of the season on Saturday at N.C. State. They both played far better on Tuesday night. Paige finished with eight points, six assists and one turnover. Strickland, meanwhile, finished with 14 points, the most he’s scored against an ACC opponent.

-- Jackson Simmons continues to provide a lift off the bench for UNC. He played 21 minutes on Tuesday, made four of his five attempts from the field and finished with eight points. Simmons tied James Michael McAdoo for the team lead in offensive rebounds. Both had three.

-- Had Hairston not suffered his concussion, it was clear that his playing time would have likely increased significantly compared to UNC’s previous two games. Hairston entered Tuesday night after playing 17 minutes each in back-to-back games. He entered on Tuesday night with 16:50 to play and sat out only about a minute more until suffering his injury four minutes before halftime.

-- The Heels were dominant in rebounding on Tuesday night. Their 13 offensive rebounds led to 20 second-chance points, and UNC outscored Boston College 20-10 in points from offensive rebounds. The Eagles finished with just seven offensive rebounds.

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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