CHARLOTTE — With nine and a half minutes remaining in the Tar Heels’ fifth road test in 12 days, Theo Pinson collected a weak-side rebound and diverted his attention to the open court in front of him.
By that point in the contest, the senior forward hadn’t made the statistical impact the No. 13 North Carolina men’s basketball team had grown accustomed to over the past eight games. He’d committed his third foul with just over four minutes to go in the first half, and, as Pinson admitted afterward, the foul trouble made him second guess his offensive instincts.
However, with the game waiting to be ripped open at its proverbial seams with the score stuck at 64-55, Pinson attacked. He lumbered across the halfcourt line with his back straight and his eyes examining his options.
He made a beeline to the basket, handling the ball with his left hand. By the time the defense was ready to stop the ball, Pinson was already turning the corner with a Wildcat defender on his hip.
“It was one of those plays where I saw they didn’t get back the way they needed to, and they were scrambling around,” Pinson said after North Carolina’s 85-75 win on Friday night. “And I just tried to attack and get to the cup.”
The senior kept his eyes locked on the rim — even after getting bumped mid-air — and saw the ball drop through the iron for the game’s most important and-one.
And on the next Tar Heel possession, Pinson found himself alone on the 3-point line with plenty of space in front of him. Instead of taking the three, he took it all the way to the bucket and finished an up-and-under layup against a Davidson defender.
The conversion extended North Carolina’s lead to 14, and it prompted Davidson head coach Bob McKillop to burn a timeout in order to refocus his team and pump life back into the home fans in the Spectrum Center.
“Me and Coach had a conversation about me shooting a shot against Michigan State when the lane was wide open and I shot a three, and it felt like the same exact play…” Pinson said, laughing. “You could tell, me and Coach, we had like a little flashback where we stared at each other during the timeout (after the play) like, ‘Dang, that’s the same play we just talked about.’”
Head coach Roy Williams’ gameplan to attack the basket — taking advantage of a shallow Davidson frontcourt wary of getting into foul trouble — resonated with guard Brandon Robinson, who was asked to play an elevated role with Pinson sidelined with foul trouble.
“Well, he was so aggressive attacking the basket because I was so ticked off at his 3-point shot,” Williams said, referring to Robinson's second attempt of the game. “I mean you think about it, our whole game plan, I always write three things up, and it was, 'Attack the basket.’”
The sophomore went 4-7 with eight points in the game, eclipsing his career high before the break.
“I feel like a lot earlier through the season, I was thinking too much and not coming out there and playing my game,” Robinson said. “I know myself more than anybody, so I knew when I got in the game to just try to make plays and play offensively.”
Sure, Luke Maye’s 24 points and career-high 17 rebounds overshadowed Pinson’s six-point, six-board statline, and Robinson’s first half display paled in comparison to Joel Berry II’s 4-7, 15-point second half outburst.
And sure, junior guard Kenny Williams took his team-high eighth charge of the year, and Garrison Brooks hit the floor on two separate occasions. Neither Pinson nor Robinson are the sole energy suppliers of this multifaceted Tar Heel team.
But when their names were called, the forward who battled foul trouble early and the reserve who had been waiting for his moment to break out all season played exactly how their team needed them to.
Their respective impacts, in harmony with the team’s floor-burners and high-scorers, ultimately demonstrated how deep this team is right now — and hinted at how special this team eventually could be.