The play Pinson referred to came in the final two minutes of overtime. With UNC (16-6, 5-4 ACC) trailing by a point, Pinson had room to operate after an outlet pass by Luke Maye and had just one defender between him and the basket.
This was the type of situation Pinson had taken advantage of all day long. But on this particular play, the ball was stripped from him as he went for a layup, then fell out of bounds after hitting his knee.
That was as close as UNC came to regaining the lead in overtime. Between then and the final buzzer, Pinson also came up empty at the free throw line with a chance to cut the deficit to one point. He entered the game shooting a career-best 82.5 percent from the line, but both of his attempts hit the back rim.
“There’s a lot of stuff going through my head right now,” Pinson said after the game.
But just getting to overtime may not have been possible if not for Pinson. About halfway through the second half, it looked like UNC was going to ride Pinson’s offensive aggressiveness to a win.
In a stretch between the 13:54 and 7:55 marks in the second half, Pinson scored 14 of UNC’s 17 points and 10 in a row at one point.
“At times, I thought he was sensational,” head coach Roy Williams said. “It would’ve been great if he had made a play that time on the break when he lost it out of bounds, but you look: 22 points, 15 rebounds – that was sensational. If he hadn’t been in foul trouble, he probably would’ve done even more.”
Williams explained that Pinson benefited from Maye attracting attention from N.C. State's Omer Yurtseven. As a result, there was often space for Pinson to drive toward the rim.
Time after time, that was what he did. Nearly every shot Pinson took came within a few feet from the rim, and he was at his best when he could slash toward the basket. Pinson said he was just taking what the defense gave him.
“Theo, I thought, did a great job of driving to the basket,” Williams said. “I was more pleased with how active he was because in the Virginia Tech game, it wasn’t just two shots. He was just walking around and wasn’t very active. Today I thought he was really active.”
Recently, UNC has been searching for others to help carry the load along with Joel Berry II and Maye. Against the Wolfpack, Pinson did. On a day where Berry struggled – shooting 3-12 from the field and failed to make a 3-pointer for the first time in 17 games – Pinson picked up the slack and contributed in multiple ways. What did he bring to the game?
“Everything,” teammate Kenny Williams said. “Aggression, rebounding – just being Theo. That’s what he’s been trying to work on lately. He’s just been himself. Some games he’ll have a game like this where the lanes are open, and he can take advantage of that.”
Usually, performances like the one turned in by Pinson on Saturday end in Tar Heel victories.
This one didn’t. But UNC, in order to be the best version of itself, needs Pinson to stay aggressive.
“I’ve always known he can play like that,” Maye said, “and just to see him play like that was huge for us. I hate that we didn’t come out with a win, but it doesn’t go unnoticed.”
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