Roy Williams has received plenty of different criticisms for his coaching this season, but limiting PJ Hairston’s playing time may not be one of them much longer. Whether by design or because Hairston was on fire, the sophomore played extended minutes and almost single-handedly shot (or dunked) the Tar Heels to the win on Saturday.
Hairston recorded a career-high 23 points in 28 minutes, shot over 60% and accounted for nearly a third of his team’s total scoring in what might have been their biggest win of the year.
At least it felt that way. The Heels have been shredded in the media all week for failing to finish games, but they responded on Saturday by pulling out a win on the road against a well-coached team that shot eleven for twenty-two from three point range, 48% from the field and only turned the ball over ten times, in a game that many in the press were labelling at must-win.
Read those stats again. This game wasn’t a fluke, and FSU didn’t choke. The ‘Noles played smart basketball, nailed back-breaking three after back-breaking three, and yet Roy’s painfully young squad still came away with the W.
The Tar Heels simply competed. They more than doubled the Seminoles on the boards, held Leonard Hamilton’s squad scoreless over the final four minutes, and (most importantly) simply never quit, even when Florida State was hitting threes left and right.
Although, the most interesting thing about Saturday’s win will likely be overshadowed by Hairston’s play. While the narrative coming out of this game will probably be that Hairston played well in spite of Roy, the game-film might show different:
In all three scoring plays by Hairston in the clip above (shown again in the images below) the Tar Heels are running a near identical set. Since PJ had hit several jumpers in the first half, his defender is no doubt going to be overplaying and/or biting on the slightest of pump-fakes:
Since FSU overplays on defense at every position, Roy has his big men come further out of the post than normal to set screens and clear the paint:
Again, in all three plays this leaves Hairston not only with a single (already overplaying) defender, but also with only one smaller weak-side defender near the basket who’s helpless against the power of the 6’5 220 pound brick-wall of a shooting guard:
Maybe Roy isn’t the weak X & O’s tactician that he’s made out to be. The Tar Heels exploited Leonard Hamilton’s patented overplaying physical defense for the entire game, and Roy went with a small-ball lineup that might have been his best in-the-moment coaching move of the season. For most of the second half, Williams played Bullock/Hairston on the wings, and then either McAdoo, JP Tokoto and/or Jackson Simmons in the post (often with Simmons as the feature big man).
Roy finally started openly tinkering with the raw, but highly talented, differing parts of his 2013 basketball team. He played smaller inside, and spread the floor to create spacing for his best talent on the wings in Bullock and Hairston. Notice none of this involves running the floor at breakneck speed or pounding it in the low-block: two weaknesses of this particular team and two hallmarks of Roy’s coaching.
This is what every UNC fan and even most analysts have been waiting to see: the wealth of talent on the roster finally bringing toughness for forty minutes, and for the coach to put his inexperienced team in the right spots on the floor. Hopefully Williams will continue to play his team’s strengths.
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