Once again, he shot his arms into the air.
Berry obliged, and the 6-foot-8 wing darted past Thompson into the lane, switching hands in traffic before flicking the ball over the vaunted Virginia defense. The bucket gave him 18 points — equaling the Cavaliers’ entire scoring output at that point — and capped off the second-best scoring half of his career.
As he strolled back on defense, Jackson high-fived Berry and tried to mask a smile. He couldn’t be stopped.
“That’s what Justin does,” Berry said. “He’s a scorer.”
Jackson put on a scoring clinic in the first half, halting numerous Tar Heel (23-5, 11-3 ACC) droughts and single-handedly matching the Cavaliers (18-8, 8-6 ACC) for much of the period. The junior ran off screens to create open looks and forced his way inside with his lanky frame — finishing 6-for-8 with four 3-pointers before halftime.
“Needless to say, Justin was our whole offense in the first half,” head coach Roy Williams said.
Williams wasn’t always pleased with him, though. After a scorching first half, Jackson added just two points in the second with a 1-for-6 performance. One of his misses — an off-balance jumper that didn’t even reach the rim — left the UNC coach wanting to pull his star wing from the court.
But fear of failure didn’t deter Jackson’s quick trigger.
“Coach reiterates to us, he would never get on us if we took a good shot,” he said. “So if you’re open, shoot it ...”
That confidence wasn’t always there for the former five-star prospect. Last year, he admitted to hesitating before each shot until he felt he had to release it. And while he still scored 12.2 points per game, his conservative approach frustrated those who saw untapped potential in the Texas native.
Now, if he’s open, he lets it fly.
“If I missed it, Coach probably wouldn’t be as happy on some on them,” he said. “But I don’t know. I guess, at the moment, I felt like I was open.”
For most of the night, he was. And when he wasn’t, the nation’s top scoring defense still couldn’t do anything to deter him.
With just under eight minutes left in the first half, Jackson sprinted along the baseline and drilled a fadeaway 3-pointer to give UNC its first double-digit lead. Both teams then went scoreless over the next two and a half minutes as the game came to a grinding halt.
So Jackson snuck behind a screen and caught the ball in stride before pushing his way into the paint, flipping the ball up and drawing the foul.
And when the ball went through the net, he flipped around and let out a scream fierce enough to match his play.
“I’m not much of an outgoing person,” he said. “But when big-time plays happen ... sometimes you’ve just got to let some things out.”