UNC Basketball: What If PJ Hairston Had Made That Three?


I typically not only do not do this sort of thing, when asked to, or worse even when forced to, I hate doing this sort of thing.  I’m not all that game on pointless speculation.  Why drone on with the what if’s?  Why not drone on about all the what did’s and what maybe wills?  But in this rare instance Tar Heel Nation, I believe I have an exception to the rule.  The case of North Carolina freshman PJ Hairston.

Hairston as you might recall has struggled in his freshman season.  Known as a deadly all around offensive player with the best jump shot and the deepest range and consistency as a three point shooter coming into Chapel Hill.  Hairston struggled so bad after a hot start in which he scored over 20 points two times early in the year and was shooting with decent consistency and obvious confidence.  He struggled so bad that his shooting percentage was a mere 31% overall and an even worse 27% from three.   As he struggled with his shot, he also struggled to come out of his shell and provide Roy Williams with any other contributions off the bench.  His minutes dwindled as a result, Hairston played less than ten minutes in several regular season games for Carolina.  Something that was not expected of the heralded recruit.

But then in the ACC Tournament Hairston came alive.  It started small in the semi-finals game with him creatively scoring nine points off the bench.  PJ suddenly seemed to play with a more relaxed nature about himself.  He was moving without the ball in the half court offense instead of standing around waiting to jack up a three point shot.  He was active going after rebounds.  The turning point for Hairston in my opinion was when he skied up for a two handed put back dunk over two defenders.   Sometimes all players, especially scorers need is that one big play to get them going and that dunk brought everyone to their feet.  It showed the type of athleticism that got me so excited for Hairston to arrive back when he committed to Carolina.  The biggest part of the play is what it did for Hairston, it got him excited and thirsty for more.  Hairston later added a three pointer, a driving lay in and a couple of key free throws.

In the finals, with a new found confidence about him Hairston had the best game he’s had in several months.  With Harrison Barnes struggling to score points in the first half and Reggie Bullock not providing any spark the Heels needed someone to come through offensively.  A tough defensive Florida State team gave UNC fits all game long.  James Michael McAdoo who started for the injured John Henson did not have the type of game he had in the semi’s and the Heels lacked their usual inside production.  Hairston came in and provided a huge spark in the second half where he scored 12 of his 14 points.  In a matter of three minutes, Hairston made 3 of 4 shots from beyond the arc to spark a run that put Carolina back in the game after trailing by double digits.

Hairston was again moving well without the ball, playing as free as I’d seen him play since the Jordan Brand All-Star game before he even arrived in Chapel Hill.  He took the ball to the basket on two different occasions scoring on one with a strong move and drawing a foul on the second.  Down 85-82 with just three seconds remaining the Tar Heels had the ball at half court with a chance to send the game into OT.  One shot was all the team had, Tyler Zeller threw the ball into Hairston who drove hard to get a shot off, he rose up, got off a pretty nice look considering the time he had and just missed in a nice effort.  Nobody could blame Hairston, that shot was as difficult a shot as you take in basketball.  Michael Jordan making that shot would still be called a “miracle game winning shot”.  But I can’t help but think one thing.  Judging by how Hairston played in the finals after he got a little rhythm in the semis.  How well would PJ Hairston have played in the NCAA Tournament after the confidence injection making that kind of shot would have given him?  We’ll never know I guess, hopefully Hairston will play well enough in the tournament that it won’t matter.

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