YANCEYVILLE, N.C. --- Greensboro (N.C.) Dudley guard P.J. Hairston didn't get off to the greatest of starts in his team's road game at Bartlett-Yancey Tuesday night, but the 2011 standout more than made up for it in the second half as the Panthers dominated the Buccaneers, 86-32.
"I thought we played great defense in the second half," said Hairston, who scored 18 points on the night. "We started off slow in the first half, and we weren't getting our shots to fall for us. In the second half we turned up the defensive pressure."
Bartlett-Yancey was able to remain close to Dudley's powerful squad early on, taking an early 4-0 lead and holding the advantage throughout much of the opening period.
Nonetheless, Hairston put the Panthers ahead to stay in the closing seconds of the first quarter, making a steal and converting a slam dunk to give Dudley a 17-16 lead.
It was the first of seven slam dunks on the night for Hairston, who was a human highlight reel with an impressive series of one-handed dunks, two-handed reverse dunks, and even a 'bounce off the backboard' dunk against a defender that drew the biggest applause of the night.
Dudley reeled off a 9-0 run early in the second quarter to build a 10-point lead, and after Bartlett-Yancey rallied with five unanswered points, the Panthers countered with a dominating 16-2 run over the final five minutes of the first half to take a 42-23 halftime advantage.
Despite Dudley's 19-point halftime lead, it wasn't the greatest of halves for Hairston, who scored three points on one-for-10 shooting from the field, including 0-for-4 from three-point range. His slam dunk at the end of the first quarter was his only field goal of the half, and a free throw accounted for his other point.
However, Hairston turned it on in a big way in the second half---making seven-of-nine shots from the field (including one three-pointer) and adding four steals---as Dudley continued to pull away.
The sophomore guard had back-to-back slam dunks midway through the third quarter as Dudley upped its lead to 52-28, and early in the fourth quarter he had another steal and slam dunk as the Panthers built its advantage to 64-30.
Following his incredible 'off the backboard' dunk, Hairston added one more slam dunk and his only three-pointer of the night to finish with 15 second half points.
For the game, Hairston was eight-of-19 shooting from the floor (one-for-six three-pointers, one-for-two free throws) and contributed five rebounds (four offensive), five steals, three blocked shots, and two assists.
In impressive fashion, Dudley out-scored Bartlett-Yancey 69-16 over the final three quarters of the game.
Bartlett-Yancey's 16 points in the final three periods matched their scoring total in the first quarter, and they only managed nine points in the entire second half.
According to Hairston, he and his Dudley teammates are making defense a significant priority as they go after yet another NCHSAA 3-A state championship this winter.
"(The season) is going real good," he said. "Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. That's what I go by. We've got to play team defense (to win another state title)."
With the victory over Bartlett-Yancey, the Panthers improved to 15-0 this season in games played in the United States.
Dudley played three games in Puerto Rico during the Holidays (going 2-1) to give the team a 17-1 overall record.
Hairston is happy to be part of such a rich basketball tradition at Dudley, a school that has won several state titles in recent years and has sent several players to big-time college basketball and even the NBA---including former UNC standout Brendan Haywood and current Tar Heel William Graves.
"It feels good (to be part of the Dudley tradition)," Hairston said. "I mean, it's nice to know that I have people that's already in the NBA that I can look up to that went to the school and know the coach (David Price). I talk to Coach about that."
In terms of his recruitment, things are still very early for Hairston, but three schools have shown him quite a bit of interest throughout his sophomore year.
"Basically North Carolina, Wake Forest, and Florida (are recruiting me the hardest)," he said.
Hairston, who has visited nearby Wake Forest and North Carolina, has been a regular visitor to Chapel Hill in recent months.
Most recently, Hairston was in the Smith Center last week as the Tar Heels knocked off Clemson in a matchup of Top 10 teams.
"I like it (North Carolina) a lot. I mean, they treat me nice, and I'm getting really close to the coaches. It's like a mutual interest," he said. "They (the UNC coaches) like the fact that I can play defense and move my feet, and I can shoot the ball and I can score."
Hairston is planning to take a trip to Florida in the near future in order to get a feel for what the Gators have to offer.
"I like all the schools a lot, basically," he said. "I haven't been to Florida yet. I'm going down there sometime in February."
In terms of his skills, Hairston mentioned his strengths as an outside shooter and a defender, while he said he's working hard to become a better ball handler.
"Basically shooting the ball and playing defense (are my strengths)," he said. "(I'm working to improve) ball handling. That's what I'm really working on."
Hairston, who played AAU last summer for the North Carolina Gaters, is unsure of his plans for this coming summer.
Right now he's dedicating his attention to getting Dudley back to the 3-A state championship game, which will be played March 14th at N.C. State.
"I really don't know right now (about AAU)," he said. "I haven't really decided. I'm trying to finish up the high school season right now."
Although he still has two more years of high school after this season, it's pretty clear that Hairston is going to be one to watch in Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference recruiting circles.