GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — After helping North Carolina turn its season around, P.J. Hairston nearly carried the Tar Heels to an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship.
Hairston scored 28 points with six 3-pointers in Sunday’s 87-77 loss to No. 9 Miami in the final. That capped a weekend of big performances in his hometown despite a cut on his non-shooting hand that required him to wear a padded bandage for the last two games.
“It felt fine,” Hairston said. “Didn’t bother me at all. I mean, just the thought of me having stitches in my left hand, it stopped me from kind of trying to reach or trying to do certain things, but I still played through it regardless.”
The 6-foot-5 sophomore scored 21 points with five 3-pointers in Friday’s quarterfinal win against Florida State, though he suffered the cut to the webbing between his left middle and ring fingers — a wound that required eight stitches. He returned for Saturday’s semifinal against Maryland and finished with 13 points and two more 3s.
Hairston finished 9 for 17 from the field and 6 for 13 from 3-point range against the Hurricanes. He was named to the all-tournament team.
“It was like a video game at first,” senior Dexter Strickland said. “He was hitting all his shots. He played amazing this whole week.”
For Miami, Shane Larkin scored a career-high 28 points, eight in the final 2½ minutes, to help the Hurricanes pull away.
Trey McKinney Jones added a career-high 20 points for the top-seeded Hurricanes (27-6), including the go-ahead 3-pointer from the left corner with 6:27 left that started Miami’s final push to secure the program’s first ACC tournament title.
In a terrific back-and-forth game filled with big shots, the Hurricanes finally slowed the third-seeded Tar Heels (24-10) enough down the stretch to secure what amounted to a road win in front of UNC’s home-state crowd.
The Tar Heels hit 13 3-pointers, which fell one shy of tying the program’s record in the tournament. But it wasn’t enough to secure UNC’s first ACC title since 2008 nor coach Roy Williams’ 700th career victory.
Larkin was chosen the tournament’s MVP after finishing as the runner-up for league player of the year to Virginia Tech’s Erick Green. But Larkin was at his best when the Hurricanes needed him in a tight game to complete their surprise run from being picked fifth in the preseason poll to ACC champion.
Miami shot 51 percent and made 12 of 22 3-pointers, six coming from McKinney Jones and four from Larkin. Miami used its size advantage against North Carolina’s four-guard lineup to take a 36-28 rebounding advantage that led to 13 second-chance points.
The Hurricanes certainly needed every bit of it to beat the Tar Heels for a third time this season. Miami had blown out North Carolina by 26 points in February but didn’t put this one away until the final minutes.
Larkin drove by Dexter Strickland for a layup and a 76-71 lead, then McKinney Jones struck again with a 3 from the left corner off a feed from Rion Brown that made it 79-71 with 1:36 left — the Hurricanes’ biggest lead to that point.
Larkin went 6-for-6 at the free throw line in the final minute to keep Miami in control.
It was an emotional moment for Miami seniors Durand Scott, Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble — who were all part of the team that was a last-place seed in the 2010 tournament that made the program’s first run to the semifinals.
As the confetti fell from the rafters of the Greensboro Coliseum after the final horn, Scott leapt into the arms of Gamble, then shared a big hug with Johnson.
Miami ended up getting the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament’s East Region. The Hurricanes will face 15th-seeded Pacific on Friday in their tournament opener in Austin, Texas.
North Carolina got the No. 8 seed in the South Region and will face ninth-seeded Villanova on Friday in Kansas City, Mo., with a possible third-round matchup with Williams’ former program — top-seeded Kansas.
For the Tar Heels, the third straight finals appearance didn’t appear likely after that humiliating loss to the Hurricanes on Feb. 9. But that’s when Williams inserted Hairston into the four-guard starting lineup, a move that changed everything for the Tar Heels.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.