Twice in the final 3 minutes, freshman guard Marcus Paige followed a Maryland basket by hitting a clutch shot of his own.
“He knows what type of shooter he is, and you’re not going to make all your shots,” Strickland said of Paige. “But he fought through it; he stepped up tonight and made some big shots for us.”
Paige’s jumper with 2:49 left came after Len cut the Tar Heels’ lead to 71-70. And after Wells hit a layup to pull the Terps to 75-72 with 1:08 left, Paige drove the baseline for a pretty layup that put North Carolina back up by five with 36.5 seconds left.
Big man James Michael McAdoo also finished with 13 points for the Tar Heels, who improved to 8-2 since inserting Hairston in the starting lineup and playing with four guards.
Their only losses in that span came to a Duke team that had already been knocked out of the tournament by these Terrapins, and now they’ll test themselves against the regular-season champion Hurricanes.
“I know we can play a heck of a lot better,” Williams said. “And we have to (be) a lot better getting ready to play somebody who’s beaten us twice by about 8 million points.”
He showed some frustration when his reverse layup with about 17 minutes left rimmed out, extending and waving both arms in disbelief.
A few seconds later, Bullock buried a short jumper and the Tar Heels matched their largest lead to that point, 47-35. Their largest lead of the game came with 11:28 left when Leslie McDonald’s free throw made it 58-45.
Hairston finished 3 of 10 and was 2 of 8 behind the 3-point line in 36 minutes — but that he even played at all was remarkable.
He needed eight stitches to close a wound that split the night before against Florida State when the ball jammed between his fingers.
“I thought I was going to die, honestly,” Hairston said. “As soon as the soap and alcohol touched me, I kind of screamed for my life. But after the thing was stitched up, of course it was a little sore. Coming out in warmups, it felt fine.”
He was a game-time decision but warmed up — and started — with the two fingers bound together with a splint and tape covering most of his hand, and he showed no obvious signs of discomfort.
“He’s been a pansy most of the time I’ve known him,” Williams said, “but today he was one tough sucker.”