GREENSBORO – All along, the Tar Heels have said they are at their best on the fast break.
It was hard to argue with that sentiment Friday.
Third-seeded North Carolina scored 27 points off turnovers and routed No. 6 seed Florida State, 83-62, in an Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinal on Friday at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“When we're able to get stops and get out in transition, I think it helps us,” North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige said. “Whenever you get a chance to play offense against a defense that isn't set, you'll probably shoot a higher percentage. We really pride ourselves in getting out on the break.”
North Carolina (23-9) led by eight at halftime and put away the game in the early stages of the second half.
Florida State cut the lead to four in the first two minutes of the half, but that was as close as the Seminoles came in the final 20 minutes.
North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston started the run by hitting a 3-pointer, then Paige made a jumper.
Reggie Bullock scored six straight points, followed by Hairston making a pair of free throws.
North Carolina earned stops on the defensive end all the while, and by the time it was finished, North Carolina had crafted a 13-0 run and turned a four-point lead into a 17-point edge.
And the entire time, James Michael McAdoo was on the bench because he had picked up his third foul.
“Every day in practice, coach always tells our wings to run, run wide, and that's how we get our easy buckets,” Bullock said. “We just had to turn up on the defensive end of the floor, turn it into easy transition buckets.”
Florida State (18-15) didn't challenge after that point as North Carolina's lead swelled to as many as 22 points.
Hairston led all scorers with 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
Bullock scored 17 points while Paige added nine points, a season-high 10 assists and one turnover, a marked improvement from the past two games, in which he turned over the ball a total of 13 times.
“I think when I stay aggressive, I tend to turn the ball over less,” Paige said. “When you get a little passive on the court, you let the defense get into you and dictate what you do.
“So, I just tried to be more aggressive and be smarter with the ball.”
The only negative for North Carolina came after the game was already in hand and Hairston sustained an injury. In a melee for the ball, Hairston had the webbing between his fingers cut so badly that he needed stitches, which North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he couldn't bring himself to watch.
“We're extremely concerned right now,” Williams said. “His hand is torn up. They're stitching it up in the training room right now. We have no idea, I have no idea, won't have any idea (about his availability for today's game).”
The victory was the Tar Heels' ninth in seven games since moving Hairston into the starting lineup.
Both losses in that stretch came to Duke, which North Carolina no longer has to worry about; the Blue Devils were upset by No. 7 seed Maryland in the quarterfinals Friday.
With the lineup, the Tar Heels hit their magic number. With the 20 assists North Carolina recorded, it moved to 15-1 in games when it notches 19 or more assists.
And the lineup did what Williams likes about it: Creates turnovers. North Carolina forced Florida State into 18 giveaways Saturday.
“I do believe we're able to create more turnovers, which helps us get out on the break,” Williams said. “We don't rebound the ball as well, but it balances out a little bit because you don't have a shot blocker.”
The Tar Heels move on to face seventh-seeded Maryland in the semifinals at 3 p.m. today.
Williams said he hadn't considered what he will do if Hairston can't play because of the short turnaround. After finishing near midnight, the Tar Heels will play again 15 hours later.
“We could play Marcus at power forward, possibly,” Williams joked. “I think conventional wisdom would say you have to go back big because you can't teach, like, Reggie (a small forward) the out-of-bounds plays at the four spot between (midnight) and (today) at 3 o'clock.
“It's already so ridiculous we're (at the arena) at midnight and have to be back here at 3.”