Gallagher column: Foul problems hampered former West star Hairston in loss to Pack
RALEIGH ó How much does former West Rowan star Junior Hairston mean to the Towson University Tigers?
After only six minutes against N.C. State on Wednesday, he had already thrown his weight around inside against Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner. The long-armed, 6-foot-8, 205-pounder had blocked three shots and Towson had stunned the RBC Center crowd of 9,521, leading 18-7.
Then, Hairston picked up his second foul and sat out the final 14:03 of the first half. When he returned for the second half tip, the Tigers trailed by five, 46-41.
“When he got in foul trouble, it concerned me,” Towson coach Pat Kennedy said. “We actually played pretty well when he was out, which was a good thing to see. But we need him.”
Hitting six 3-pointers in the opening half helped Towson lead most of the first 20 minutes. But the Wolfpack was too big and too deep, eventually wearing down their Colonial Athletic Association foe, 88-68.
“I would’ve liked to have been out there,” Hairston said. “But we had a pretty good first half so I wasn’t so frustrated.”
Hairston shot only once in the first half. He played 18 minutes after intermission, finishing with five points on 2-of-6 shooting. He nailed a three and swooped underneath for a layup.
It was a quick flash of this talented senior, who is finally fulfilling the promise we all saw when he was helping Mike Gurley’s Falcons to two straight 3A state championships in 2002-03. The Wolfpack was the only team that has really stopped him.
In a loss to 15th-ranked Villanova, he was the only Tiger in double figures. Hairston had 19 points and four blocks against UMBC. He had 16 points and five blocks against Hofstra.
A satisfying performance was against Phil Martelli’s Saint Joseph’s club. Martelli actually stood in the West Rowan gym back in 2003, and he offered a scholarship. Hairston proved the offer was warranted, scoring 16 points.
But the special game of his Towson career came last month at nearby High Point in a 71-57 win. With family and friends watching, he scored 17 points and blocked four more shots.
And Hairston had a second homecoming on Wednesday.
“It was a surprise to me when I was told N.C. State was on the schedule,” Hairston said. “It feels good to come home and let people see me.”
Hairston was on a roll going into yesterday. In his two previous games against Bowling Green and Lafayette, he had back-to-back double-doubles. His 22 points against the Leopards was a career high.
“Junior has improved tremendously,” Kennedy said. “He did a great job in weight training during the offseason. He is bigger and stronger and has become a terrific all-around player. He’s hitting 39 percent on his 3s.”
But Hairston hasn’t played anyone as big and bulky as Costner, who matched up with him most of the game. Costner has an inch and 30 pounds on Hairston.
“He was pretty physical,” Hairston said with a shrug.
Hairston played in front of more fans in high school at the Moir Christmas Classic than he has at any time this season. Fan support at home comes to around 2,500. He said the larger crowd and the larger arena in Raleigh had no effect on him.
“To me, it felt like a normal game,” Hairston said.
Except that he was held to a season-low.
“I came out in the second half a little tight,” Hairston said. “I was trying to get going but I didn’t want to disrupt the rhythm we already had. I tried to be more of a role player.”
That will change when the CAA gets cranked up. He’s the Tigers’ leading scorer at 15.6, the leading rebounder (6.6) and is fifth in school history with 93 blocks.
“He is as quick as a cat coming from the weak side and getting after people,” Kennedy said. “He’s a terrific shot blocker, no doubt. And he’s still growing.”
Towson will need all of that when Towson (5-8, 0-1) plays host to James Madison on Saturday.
“I think we have a chance to do something in the conference if we play hard,” Hairston said. “We can get in the top four.”
Kennedy loves his big guy’s talent and confidence. He just has one regret.
“I wish I had him for another year,” Kennedy said with a smile.
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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