Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon perhaps said it best during his postgame press conference.
“Bullock and Hairston are tough matchups.”
The Tar Heels duo combined for 41 points on 13-of-23 shooting, 20 rebounds (5 offensive), six assists and six steals.
Bullock posted his third double-double in his last four games, pairing 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting (4-of-6 from 3) with 12 rebounds. Hairston scored a game-high 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting (2-of-7 from 3) to go along with eight rebounds.
“It’s efficient for us on the offensive end to run the small lineup because people can’t match up with P.J.,” Bullock said.
Hairston sparked UNC early with game-highs of 10 points and six rebounds at halftime. Turgeon had several bigger post players to defend UNC’s 6-foot-5 four-man with minimal effectiveness. If Hairston wasn’t threatening from long range, he was displaying his ability to get into the lane off the dribble.
Maryland used a 13-4 run to take a 27-24 lead with 3:24 left before halftime. Hairston gave UNC the lead back at 29-27 with a deep three – on an assist from Bullock – and then rebounded his own missed free throw with 44 seconds remaining to set up a Bullock jumper to further increase the margin.
Maryland eventually went small after halftime to counter Hairston, who answered by taking advantage of the Terrapins’ decision to switch screens to work against smaller defenders.
“Just play my game and basically stay on the offensive boards and try to box out those big bodies,” Hairston said of his approach.
Bullock did his damage after halftime with 14 points and nine rebounds. He drained a 3-pointer roughly two minutes into the second half to push UNC’s lead to 39-29 and then added seven more points over the next seven minutes to give his team a 56-42 lead with 9:31 left.
Bullock has labeled himself as one of the team’s leaders throughout the season, but his play has begun to highlight that aspect of his game in recent weeks.
“I’m just trying to be more vocal on the court, telling my teammates to take shots that I know they work on every day,” Bullock said. “They definitely screen the hell out of people to get me the ball, so I thank them for doing that and work to continue to get them the ball.
“I just love seeing the smile on their faces.”
While their scoring is critical, it’s their rebounding that drew the most praise during postgame interviews.
“The 20 rebounds is the really important part,” Marcus Paige said. “We are a little undersized with our lineup, but P.J. and Reggie have really been crashing the boards. And then, obviously when they make shots that definitely helps. The most important thing is the way they control the boards.”
Not only are they required to pick up the slack with the small lineup, but they also play a role against teams that shoot a lot of 3-pointers.
“I think our wing players really have to help us do a great job,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “Particularly, in today’s game, there are so many 3-point shots. There are so many long rebounds. [Maryland] shot 23 threes and so the perimeter players have got to help you get more of those because your post guys are inside and the ball is bouncing over their head.”
Since UNC switched to its small lineup seven games ago, Bullock and Hairston are combining for 33 points and 14.7 rebounds per game.