North Carolina Tar Heels

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South region, jumped out to a 20-point second half led. While the No. 4 seed Butler Bulldogs would not go down quietly, the Tar Heels would keep the lead no less than 10 for the remainder of the evening, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 92-80 win on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

It was the bounce-back win the Tar Heels needed — following a near collapse against Arkansas in the second round — to assert themselves as serious contenders once again.

Joel Berry II, who had been hampered by an ankle injury suffered in the first round win against Texas Southern, had a game-high 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting. That’s coming a weekend after 3-of-21 shooting in first and second half wins. Justin Jackson followed with 24 points. Luke Maye had 14 of his 16 points in the first half, an offensive explosion that included a trio of 3-pointers.

“Well, at this stage of the year, if you don’t have good offensive games or good defensive games, you go home,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams told reporters after the game. “But we do need to be clicking a little bit on all cylinders. We’ve got one, two — we only had three guys in double figures today, one of them is 26 and the other 24, so that’s pretty good. But yes, we do need both of them making shots and doing some things for us.”

Williams is right. The Tar Heels do need to be clicking on a little bit on all cylinders. And on Friday night, they did a little more of that than they did in a second-round scare from the Razorbacks.

North Carolina’s offense didn’t have a lapse it did in the second half against Arkansas. When Butler cut the deficit to 10 with more than five minutes remaining, North Carolina countered with a 7-2 run. Part of the offensive efficiency should be attributed to the status of Berry’s ankle, which besides a few moments in the second half, didn’t plague him as much as it did in the previous contest. It also helped that Jackson avoided a 5-for-14 shooting performance and the Tar Heels cut down the turnovers from 17 to 10. They also held a good shooting team — one that needed to knock down shots from the outside if it wanted a chance to extend its season — to under 30 percent from beyond the arc.

The Tar Heels controlled the glass, and dominated the inside, outrebounding the Bulldogs 38-26 and scoring 42 points in the paint. That’s a good sign, as they should be expected to hold the advantage on the inside against either team they face in the Elite Eight.

Regardless of who prevails in the rematch between No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 2 seed Kentucky, the top-seeded Tar Heels are in for an all-out war on Sunday in the Elite Eight. But Friday night was the bounce-back performance that showed the Tar Heels are capable of putting it all together to book another trip to the Final Four.

No. 1 North Carolina blows lead, but avoids upset from No. 8 Arkansas

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South Region, blew a 17-point lead but fortunately had enough time to stave off an upset bid from No. 8 Arkansas.

The Tar Heels advance to the Sweet 16 with a 72-65 win over the Razorbacks on Sunday night in Greenville, South Carolina.

Arkansas not only erased a double-digit deficit, it had the lead coming out of the last official timeout. However, it was North Carolina — not Mike Anderson’s 40 Minutes of Hell — that would clamp down defensively. Over the final 3:30 of regulation, and trailing 65-62, the Tar Heels held the Razorbacks without a single point.

Not to take credit from North Carolina’s execution down the stretch, but the defense was aided by several bad possessions by Arkansas. This game was not without controversy, as well.

With 50 seconds remaining, Joel Berry II collided with two Razorbacks as he drove to the basket. The help-side defender appeared to have drawn a charge. Or, perhaps the primary defender got Berry on the arm. And maybe, Berry traveled after making contact. There were three options for the officials to make the call instead, they swallowed their whistles. Berry threw a dart off the backboard which Kennedy Meeks tipped in to put the Tar Heels up 68-65.

North Carolina ran out to a 17-point lead in the first half due to mistakes by Arkansas and owning the offensive glass. The Tar Heels have arguably the best rebounding team in the country, while the Razorbacks allow opponents to corral 34 percent of their missed shots according to kenpom. North Carolina came down with 14 offensive rebounds in the first half. In the second half, Arkansas reversed that trend and kept the Tar Heels to one shot as it began its comeback effort.

Arkansas defense flummoxed North Carolina, holding the Tar Heels to 38 percent shooting and 29 percent from three. Berry and Justin Jackson combined to shoot 7-of-27 from the field.

Meeks led the team with 16 points, followed by Jackson’s 15. Daryl Macon had 19 points off the bench in a losing effort.

North Carolina will play No. 4 seed Butler next week in the Sweet 16 in Memphis.

Pinson to miss North Carolina’s game Tuesday vs. Pitt

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The wait for Theo Pinson will extend at least a bit longer.

The North Carolina junior will not play Tuesday against Pittsburgh due to the ankle injury he sustained last week, coach Roy Williams said on the weekly ACC teleconference.

While Pinson is ruled out for Tuesday, his prognosis may not be entirely dire.

“Well, I am hopeful,” Williams said according to the News Observer, “but I don’t know how you grade it. I’m hopeful that we’ll get him back but again, I don’t have enough information right now to base that on other than I’d love to have him back because I think he adds so much to our team.”

The 6-foot-6 forward suffered the injury last week against Virginia Tech and then missed Saturday’s loss at Miami in which the Tar Heels shot just 35 percent from the field and gave up 11 offensive rebounds.

Pinson is averaging 6.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

After Tuesday’s tilt at Pitt, North Carolina faces No. 20 Notre Dame on Saturday and No. 21 Duke the following Thursday.

Player of the Week: Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II, North Carolina

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At this point, it’s almost too difficult to separate the contributions being made by Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson.

Berry is the guy that makes everything easier for No. 11 North Carolina offensively. Jackson has turned into the sharpshooter and the closer that the Tar Heels have lacked the last two seasons. And the two of them have essentially taken turns making the big shots down the stretch for UNC this season.

On Wednesday, in a win at Wake Forest, it was Jackson burying a clutch three in a game where he led the Tar Heels with 19 points. On Saturday, it was Berry that had an answer for every Florida State run. He finished with 26 points against FSU. Jackson had 22, and he had a three in a late run that put the game away.

At this point, these two make up the best one-two punch in the ACC. They deserve to be in the same conversation with the likes of De’Aaron Fox-Malik Monk, Josh Hart-Jalen Brunson and Frank Mason III-Josh Jackson when it comes to the best one-two punches in the sport. Both have earned at least consideration for all-american teams.

They are the reason that UNC is very much a contender to get back to the Final Four and win that elusive national title.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss was the best player on the floor for the Zags on Saturday night as they handed Saint Mary’s their worst loss of the season, 79-56. It was quite the statement for Gonzaga, as Saint Mary’s was considered by many to be a real contender for the WCC title. Is it too early to start talking about Gonzaga’s undefeated season?
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford put together one of the best shooting performances we’ve seen this season, hitting 9-for-14 from three in a 37-point outburst at Colorado. Alford also hit a huge three late in the second half of the Bruins’ win at Utah, only the fourth time in six years that a Pac-12 team has swept the Mountain schools on the road.
  • London Perrantes, Virginia: Virginia bounced back from a rough start to ACC play with a pair of wins this week, including a win at Clemson. Perrantes was fantastic in the two wins, averaging 24.5 points and hitting a number of critical shots late in the win at Clemson. He’s turning into the go-to guy that the Cavaliers lost in Malcolm Brogdon.
  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Beating an in-state rival like Arizona State is always awesome. Scoring 30 points in a game is always awesome. Scoring 30 points in a blowout win over your in-state rival? Priceless. Or something like that, right? Regardless, Markkanen has more than lived up to the hype he had entering the season.
  • Vlad Brodziansky, TCU: The Horned Frogs moved to 3-2 in the Big 12 this season with wins at Texas and over Iowa State at home, and Brodziansky was the biggest reason why. The 6-foot-11 Slovakian averaged 22 points, 10 boards and three blocks while shooting better than 70 percent form the floor.

No. 11 North Carolina pulls away late, hands No. 9 Florida State first ACC loss

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Joel Berry II scored 26 points and Isaiah Hicks added a career-high 22 points as No. 11 North Carolina protected their home court and handed No. 11 Florida State their first ACC loss of the season.

Florida State got 18 points from Dwayne Bacon while Jonathan Isaac finished with 17 points, 12 boards, three steals and two assists.

Both Florida State and North Carolina are now 4-1 in ACC play, sitting a game behind Notre Dame for first place in the league’s regular season standings.

Here are three things you can takeaway from this game:

1. North Carolina is going to ride their studs: North Carolina has the best one-two punch in the ACC, and they’re going to ride that one-two punch as far as they’ll carry them. Joel Berry II has been simply terrific this season, and Saturday afternoon was no different. He finished with 26 points, getting 17 of them in the first half, including a flurry of eight straight points right before halftime that helped to push North Carolina’s lead to nine.

Justin Jackson was just as good. He had 22 points on Saturday, hitting a number of big shots in the second half, including a pair of run-ending threes and a tough, off-balance runner late in the half that helped hold off a surging Seminoles team. Both Berry and Jackson entered North Carolina as five-star prospects in the same class, and while it took a little bit longer than we expected for them to start to impact the game at that level, they’re doing it now.

2. But their bench is pretty good, too: You know who else was in that recruiting class with Berry and Jackson? Theo Pinson. He, too, was a five-star prospect that hasn’t exactly lived up to that potential during his Tar Heel career. He was dealing with a broken foot earlier in the season, and while he officially returned to the floor last Sunday against N.C. State, his “return” came on Saturday. Pinson had 12 points, 10 boards and three assists, and he was responsible for eight straight points – a rim-rattling dunk, an assist for a three and a three of his own – in an 8-2 run late in the game that turned an 80-76 lead to an 88-78 lead. That statsheet-stuffing role is something that the Tar Heels need, and it looks like Pinson is finally ready to provide it.

Luke Maye also had himself a pretty good game. With Kennedy Meeks struggling with fouls and Tony Bradley out due to a concussion, Maye played arguably his best game as a Tar Heel, notching 15 rebounds and holding his own against Florida State’s much bigger and more athletic front line. Maye is never going to be a star for the Tar Heels, but being able to play the role he played today – a fourth big man that can hold his own – fills a hole on the roster.

3. Don’t let the final margin fool you: Because Florida State was in this thing throughout. Every time North Carolina hit FSU with a run, the Seminoles had an answer despite the fact that Xavier Rathan-Mayes did not play as well as he usually does. I’m not sure Florida State could have been called the favorite to win the ACC, but losing on the road to North Carolina by 13 in a game where the spread in Vegas was seven is not exactly an indictment on the team. They’re a contender that took a competitive loss at the team that is probably the best team in the ACC.

VIDEO: Pinson crashes Williams’ press conference

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Theo Pinson made his season debut Sunday for North Carolina, going for 13 minutes in a blowout win over NC State after a foot injury had sidelined him up to that point.

But before he made his first appearance on the court, Pinson made his presence known by crashing coach Roy Williams’ press conference

Pinson, of course, is somewhat known for these types of hijinks, having done it at the NCAA tournament last year.

The 6-foot-6 junior had five rebound, five assists and four steals against the Wolfpack.