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ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Notebook

HAIRSTON SETTLES DOWN, THEN STEPS UP

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

AND STEVE DeSHAZO

ATLANTA—It took just one trip up and down the court for Josh Hairston’s anxiety to show.

The Duke sophomore forward has played 7.6 minutes per game this season.

But with junior forward Ryan Kelly out of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with a sprained foot, the Blue Devils are expected to lean on Hairston more.

“When I ran up and down one time, I looked over at [assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski] and he gave me the hand motion to calm down,” said Hairston, a former Courtland High School standout. “So I just relaxed, took a deep breath and I was fine from there.”

Hairston recorded four points, three rebounds and one assist in 16 minutes in a 60–56 win over the Hokies.

It’s the most time he’s received on the court since he played 18 minutes in a win over Western Michigan on Dec. 30.

“His intensity and his emotion were big,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “When he’s on the court, he makes the guys on the court better. It might not show up in the stats, but it shows up when we’re ahead. The score is what he plays for. I’m really proud of him.”

Hairston said his goal was not to try to replace Kelly’s 11.8 points per game. Instead he wanted to rebound, play defense and provide an energy boost to the Blue Devils. He scored on a baseline jumper and later on a layup in which he had to maneuver past a Virginia Tech defender.

Hairston said it’s been a challenge sitting on the bench the majority of his first two college seasons. But he’s hoping Friday can propel him to a breakthrough.

“Of course, it’s frustrating, but at the same time I know I play behind three of the top big men in the country,” Hairston said of Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Miles Plumlee. I know my time is coming.”

NO BREAK FOR HENSON

Top-seeded North Carolina may have survived a scare. X–rays showed that junior forward John Henson didn’t suffer a broken wrist when he tried to brace his fall after being fouled in the first half of the Tar Heels’ 85–69 win over Maryland Friday.

Henson attempted to return to the game, but soon realized he wasn’t able to be effective.

“They don’t think it’s a break with John,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “It’s just that he had trouble catching and gripping the basketball. It’s his left wrist; that’s the one he uses. That’s his dominant hand, even though he is right-handed.”

Henson said he wants to play in the Tar Heels’ matchup with N.C. State today.

However, the Tar Heels aren’t likely to rush the ACC Defensive Player of the Year back to before the NCAA tournament.

The first-team all-ACC selection averages 13.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

DEVILS ON THEIR GUARD

This Duke team isn’t as physically imposing as any of Krzyzewski’s four national championship squads and has relied heavily on 3-pointers for its scoring. Some observers predict a possible early exit from the NCAA tournament for the Blue Devils, but Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg isn’t among them.

“They’ve got two tremendous perimeter players [Austin Rivers and Seth Curry] and a physical front court,” Greenberg said. “The tournament is a guards’ game, and if they defend the way they did tonight, they’ve got the potential to advance deep in the tournament.”

TIP-INS

North Carolina’scenter Tyler Zeller received his second straight Skip Prosser Award as the ACC’s top scholar–athlete in men’s basketball Friday. Zeller, the ACC’s player of the year, averages 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and carries a 3.62 grade-point average.

Mike Scott’s 10 rebounds Friday gave him 938 for his career, moving him past Junior Burrough (928) and into third on Virginia’s career list. Only Ralph Sampson (1,511) and Travis Watson (1,115) collected more.

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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