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Sunday January 29th

Justin Jackson, from Humble, Tex., leads UNC to ACC title game.

The freshman wing had a career-high 22 points in UNC's 71-67 win over Virginia

<p>Starting forward Justin Jackson (44) takes a shot in the paint. Jackson was 4-for-5 on threes and 8-for-10 on field goals.</p>
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Starting forward Justin Jackson (44) takes a shot in the paint. Jackson was 4-for-5 on threes and 8-for-10 on field goals.

Greensboro — It would be wrong to call Justin Jackson quiet. He’s certainly not the most vocal member of the North Carolina basketball team, but it’s hard to blame him when he lives with Joel Berry and part-time cheerleader Theo Pinson.

But even after a team and career-high 22 points in UNC’s (24-10) 71-67 upset of top-seeded Virginia (29-3) in the semifinal of the ACC Tournament, there wasn’t a trace of gloating from the freshman.

“Well,” Coach Roy Williams said. “He’s from Humble, Texas.”

“It’s Tomball,” Jackson whispered, away from the microphone.

Tomball, Tex., where Jackson was home-schooled from fourth-grade on. Where he played for the Home School Christian Youth Association Warriors ­— a team that was lucky to get both sides of the community center’s gym for practice — before becoming the first homeschooled player to get a scholarship at UNC.

Tomball, Tex., far removed from Greensboro, where Friday night, reporters and TV cameras pinned his 6-foot-8 frame against a beige cinderblock wall, hurling question after question until he was mercifully pulled and thrown into a press conference, where he headed for the audience seats until Marcus Paige grabbed him and directed him to the stage.

The Greensboro court is no different than the ones in Tomball, Tex. though. Maybe a few more New York Life decals, but the same dimensions. It's still the same game. But most everything else is not yet commonplace for Jackson.

“Most of us are like that,” Brice Johnson said. “I don’t really like all the cameras and all that in my face, but I do it because I have to. He’s a very humble kid. He’s a great kid. That just how he is.”

Yet for the beginning of his rookie campaign in Chapel Hill, he wasn’t anything like “how he is.” Or at least, how he was supposed to be.

“I always knew I was a shooter,” Jackson said. “Obviously, the numbers didn’t show it. But for me, I knew it would come around sooner or later.”

And they did. For the eighth game in a row, he scored in double figures. For the most important game of his career, he scored in crucial moments.

With 7 minutes and 30 seconds left in the game, Virginia star Malcolm Brogdon drilled a 3-pointer to cut North Carolina’s perpetual lead to seven.

Jackson didn’t like that. His 3-pointer on the next possession brought the margin back to double digits.

Ninety seconds later, two free throws from Evan Nolte brought the Cavaliers to within eight. Jackson didn’t like that. His jumper on the next possession brought the margin back to double digits.

Brogdon knocked down another three with 2 minutes 48 seconds remaining. UNC’s lead that had been as big as 13 earlier was a measly one point now.

Jackson really didn’t like that. He scored then, and hit his only two free throws of the night a minute later to close the door.

“That’s amazing,” Johnson said. “That’s what we need.”

“Yeah, that’s the real Justin,” Paige said of his teammate's performance and demeanor. “I remember when we were recruiting him, he was so quiet he didn’t say anything. He’s opened up a little bit since. He’s always been humble, but I think he realizes his opportunity here, and he’s gracious. We need him to be a big time player and he’s starting to be one, so we’re happy.”

As they should be. After just three points in the first half, the Cavaliers' Brogdon was doing everything in his power and more to avoid the upset. He had 22 points in the second period alone.

But quiet Justin Jackson from Humble, Tex. was as loud as he’s ever been in the final 20 minutes Friday night. He shot 6-for-7 from the field, hit both 3-pointers he took and was perfect from the charity stripe.

It was a special enough performance for Williams to compare the wide-eyed freshman to one of the coach’s highest-praised players of recent memory.

“Marcus’ freshman year I said he’s going to be a big time player. It’s a matter of time, sometimes it takes some guys longer than others,” Williams said. “I did know that (Jackson) was going to be a big time shooter before he left. I just hoped it was in my lifetime.”

Jackson gave that to him Friday night, so his Hall of Fame coach gave him something equally as valuable in return. Williams made a statement half meant for the crowd in front of him, half targeted to the kid to his left who had played so doggone good for him that night.

“Proud of the little fella.”

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