P.J. Hairston is listed at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. Georgia Tech’s starting frontcourt – Robert Carter, Jr. and Daniel Miller – check in at 6-foot-8, 245 pounds and 6-foot-11, 257 pounds, respectively.
Hairston was tasked with guarding both big men, as well as 6-foot-8, 231-pound Kammeon Holsey, for significant stretches during UNC’s third game with its new starting lineup.
The sophomore guard’s initial reaction to the challenge?
“It was fun.”
Carter, who was Hairston’s primary defensive responsibility, scored nine points on 4-of-11 shooting. His first basket was an 18-footer over his smaller defender from the right wing. Only two of Carter’s field goals came in the post.
“It was just a big task for me knowing that they had that strength advantage and it was up to me to hold my ground and basically do what the post players do on defense,” Hairston said.
Hairston also benefitted from team defense that collapsed from the perimeter to help.
“We wanted P.J. to try to front him more on the low post,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “We never got that defensive set working. P.J. stayed behind him all night. We jammed down a couple of times - I think we got one turnover and one deflection that they ended up getting.”
James Michael McAdoo also assumed a more sizeable defensive assignment in primarily guarding Miller in the post. Miller was a non-factor offensively (six points), while Holsey led Georgia Tech’s post players with 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting.
McAdoo, on the other hand, thrived against Miller on the offensive end, forcing the senior center into foul trouble while scoring a team-high 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
“It helped a lot knowing that I could take him away from the basket where I think he’s a little bit uncomfortable,” McAdoo said.
The key for North Carolina long term will be creating a positive net result with its small lineup. The sacrifice involved with removing a post player must be countered by a greater benefit of scoring more efficiently in the halfcourt and in transition.
In other words, UNC must protect its weakness and capitalize on its strengths. The opening two possessions of the second half provided a glimpse of how North Carolina succeeded in gaining that advantage.
Despite Hairston guarding Miller, the Yellow Jackets failed to post up their center, instead coughing up a turnover 20 seconds into the possession. On the other end of the floor, Hairston received a pass on the left wing and promptly drove around Carter to the basket before drawing a foul on Mfon Udofia, who had collapsed to help.
Georgia Tech was intent on preventing Hairston to penetrate from the wing for most of the game, thereby providing him various good looks from deep. Hairston struggled to find his shot, however, as he managed 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting (1-of-7 from 3).
There’s still a long way to go, of course, in perfecting this new look.
“It was okay,” Williams said of his lineup’s effectiveness. “It wasn’t great. I don’t like to look down and see that they outrebounded us 43-38 and [led] second-chance points 12-9. We don’t like that, but I do like the fact that we got out on the fast break a little bit more, too…
“We’ve got to be better at it because it does give us some deficiencies.”
The first three tests for this starting lineup have yielded solid results. Saturday’s contest against N.C. State will offer the biggest challenge yet with a more formidable post tandem in C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell.