by Megan Walsh, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL - Sophomore guard P.J. Hairston already made his decision.
When he saw Dexter Strickland jump in front of a Georgia Tech big man in the second half of Wednesday's 79-63 win against the Yellow Jackets, Hairston anticipated the steal and took off with him. From that point forward, he just knew.
"When Dexter gave it to me I already had my mind made up that I was going to dunk it anyway," Hairston said. "Little did I know that I was going to be dunking on a 6-foot-11 center. But I had to. ... Honestly, I didn't see him until the last second and I was up there, so I was like, 'Well, why not.'"
With his hand and the ball already cocked back for the grand finale, Hairston pushed down a one-handed slam directly over the Terrapins' Daniel Miller. The dunk sent the Dean Dome into a flurry, with 'Hair-ston' chants quickly following.
Hairston, though, didn't really have time to soak it all in.
"Actually, right after that, I was kind of posing," Hairston said, laughing. "I came to the bench and I heard them chanting my name, but other than that I was basically posing and trying to sprint back on defense cause my man beat me back down the court."
After a 1-for-8 shooting performance against Maryland, Hairston finished the night with 15 points off the bench for North Carolina on 5-for-11 shooting - 3-for-6 from the three-point line. It was the type of performance his teammates and coaches are looking for every game.
"I've seen quite a few (dunks) at Carolina, but it's easy top five, top 10 - I'll say top 10," James Michael McAdoo said. "I've been playing with P.J since I was in eighth grade, so I've seen what he can do. I've seen how he can dominate games ... When his shot is falling, he just dominates. He makes things look so much easier and makes thing easier on us as post players."
And Strickland echoed those feelings - that when Hairston is having a good night, it generally means the rest of the team is thriving off it, as well.
"It's very different," Strickland said. "It opens the floor for McAdoo, Joel (James) - J.P. (Tokoto) even had a couple of easy buckets. It just gets the team flowing and gets everybody pumped up and ready to play."
The focus for Hairston now, though, is getting a grasp on those games and making them happen night after night. Coach Roy Williams said consistency is key for Hairston moving forward.
"It would be consistency if we got it, but we don't have it yet," Williams said. "I'll take 3-for-6 from the three-point line every time, but we've got to get the consistency out of him if he wants to be the big-time player we need him to be."
But Hairston knows that finding that consistency is possible. From the very first time he checks into the game down to his final shot, Hairston's play all comes down to finding a rhythm and staying with it.
With UNC's first matchup against NC State booked for Saturday and a stretch of difficult road games not far behind, Hairston is looking to make that change right away.
"It's just up to me to find myself in the game and just take what they give me," Hairston said. "This game I started out with a layup right under the basket and made my way out to where I got two wide-open three's. From then on it was like, 'OK, I'm in this rhythm. I can keep doing this.' I just have to take my time and be patient."