- Robbi Pickeral, College Basketball
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GREENSBORO, N.C. –- With Friday's night 83-62 ACC quarterfinal victory over Florida State, North Carolina appeared to heal the wounds of last weekend’s blowout loss to Duke -- shooting sharp, sharing the ball, aggressively running the court.
Until someone got hurt.
Sophomore P.J. Hairston, the catalyst for the four-guard starting lineup that now has gone 7-2 since it was instituted, sustained a blood-dripping cut to his left hand late in the blowout. It’s unknown whether he’ll be able to play in Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Maryland.
“We’re extremely concerned right now,” coach Roy Williams said after the game. “His hand is torn up. … We have no idea, I have no idea, won’t have any idea [if he’s going to play]. I’ve told you everything I know. It doesn’t look good.”
The wing-turned-power-forward left the game -- blood dripping on the Greensboro Coliseum court -- with 4:14 remaining, after he sustained a cut between the middle and ring fingers on his left (non-shooting) hand. The Greensboro native, who left the game (briefly) earlier in the half with a stinger to his left shoulder, was not available for comment after the game. But the school said he needed eight stitches between those fingers.
Williams said the injury occurred when an FSU player was trying to steal the ball.
“He [Hairston] had the ball and said the guy slammed into the ball and he felt like the ball jammed between his fingers right there,” Williams said.
The injury could hurt the Tar Heels in more ways than one.
If Hairston can’t play for a stretch, UNC would certainly miss the aggressive scorer who recorded 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting during Friday's victory (and who helped UNC shoot 10-for-22 from 3-point land as a team, after its awful 1-for-14 effort against the Blue Devils last weekend).
But the team would also miss the spacing and speed that this four-guard lineup provides. Since the switch, point guard Marcus Paige (career-high 10 assists Friday) and shooting guard Dexter Strickland (10 points) have had clearer lanes to the basket, forward James Michael McAdoo (12 points in a foul-plagued 14 minutes) has enjoyed more room down low and junior wing Reggie Bullock (17 points, nine rebounds) has been racking up more stats in more categories.
Williams said after the game he hasn’t had a chance to think about what he might do if Hairston can’t play. But he likely would return to a more traditional two-post approach.
“We could play Marcus at power forward, possibly,’’ he said, kidding about the possibility of moving his starting ballhandler to the 4-spot, “but the conventional wisdom would say you have to go big because you can’t teach Reggie the out-of-bounds plays from the 4-spot between now and tomorrow at 3:00. It’s already so ridiculous that it’s midnight and we have to be back at 3. The 9 o’clock game started at 9:40 again.”
No matter the hour, the timing isn’t good to lose Hairston, who has posted four games with 20 or more points since he was inserted into the starting lineup. It could be a similar situation to last March, when now-NBA-rookie John Henson injured his wrist in the league quarterfinals.
“Last year James Michael stepped up for John and played great in the ACC tournament,’’ Williams said. “So if we can’t have P.J., we’ve got to have somebody step up and play great.”
Or things could start hurting, again.