CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — P.J. Hairston scored a career-high 29 points in his second straight start to help North Carolina beat Virginia 93-81 on Saturday.
Freshman Marcus Paige added 17 for the Tar Heels (17-8, 7-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), who snapped a two-game skid with one of their strongest offensive showings this season. North Carolina shot 49.2 percent (29 of 59) and hit 13 3-pointers for its best total in a league game while staying with the four-guard lineup it used in Wednesday night’s loss at rival Duke.
The Tar Heels had lost by 26 points at third-ranked Miami and by five to the No. 2 Blue Devils in the past week, but they buried shot after shot from outside Saturday and tore through a defense that ranked second nationally by allowing just 52 points per game.
Virginia (18-7, 8-4) hadn’t allowed more than 69 points, a total UNC passed with more than 9 minutes left.
Joe Harris scored a career-high 27 points to lead the Cavaliers, who got off to a fast start by making 11 of 13 shots, with six of those coming from 3-point range for a 10-point lead in the first 11 minutes. Virginia finished at 58.5 percent (31 of 53) and hit 12 of 21 from 3-point range (57.1 percent), but the Cavaliers struggled to slow the Tar Heels after halftime.
Both teams needed this win to help their chase for a first-round bye at next month’s ACC tournament, not to mention to solidify their NCAA tournament chances, too. Virginia won the first meeting in January by pulling away in the final minutes and had a shot to sweep the regular-season series for the first time since 2002.
But Hairston led the offensive surge for the Tar Heels, who scored eight straight points out of halftime to break open a tie game on the way to 53 second-half points.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore had averaged nearly 16 points per game on 51 percent shooting in his last six games and picked right up where he left off at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where he matched his career-high with 23 points in the 73-68 loss to the Blue Devils.
Coach Roy Williams started Hairston as one of four guards, shortened his rotation and played primarily with six players that night. Williams refused afterward to commit to using the same starting five against the Cavaliers, then went back to it anyway on Saturday.
Hairston went 8-for-14 from the field and 6-for-12 from behind the arc, where the Tar Heels finished at 13-for-28 (46.4 percent). In addition, Paige and Reggie Bullock each knocked down three 3s as the Tar Heels made at least 10 in a game for the first time since hitting 13 against McNeese State on Dec. 22.
The teams went into the locker room tied at 40 on Jontel Evans’ running 1-hander from about 30 feet at the buzzer, but the Tar Heels sprinted out of the break. They pushed their lead to 83-65 on yet another 3 from Hairston with 5 minutes left, and Virginia got no closer than nine the rest of the way.
The Tar Heels played their second straight game without freshman center Joel James, due to a concussion.
Virginia freshman center Mike Tobey missed his fourth straight game due to mononucleosis.