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3-point shooting finds place in UNC men's basketball offense

North Carolina’s bench loved it. Theo Pinson pulled imaginary arrows out of an imaginary bag on his back and fired them into a silent Petersen Events Center.

Even head coach Roy Williams was impressed with his star wing’s performance.

“Five-for-11 from three,” Williams said after UNC’s win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 25. “That’s pretty doggone good. We’ll take that most times.”

It was one of many standout 3-point shooting nights from Jackson. The junior has shot 38.5 percent from beyond the arc this season, a 9.3 percent increase over last year.

On nights when he’s off, Berry takes over. He’s been even better from deep in 2016-17, shooting 42.4 percent in 30 games. Both Jackson (2.7) and Berry (2.5) players rank among the top-four in the ACC in made 3-pointers per game.

All this has come within the confines of Williams’ inside-out, regimented offensive system. Williams’ offense is predicated on getting the ball inside, feeding traditional possession-eaters like Tyler Hansbrough or Brice Johnson. Without a dominant inside force, UNC’s guards and 3-point shooting have flourished.

“We don’t have anybody like Brice that we could just ... throw the ball down to,” Berry said. “This year is more — I feel like it’s more of a guard-play thing than getting the ball down low.”

Williams wants 3-point attempts to come within the flow of the game. Even if Berry and Jackson can shoot like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, you won’t see any North Carolina players pulling up from half court in transition like those pros do.

Instead, Jackson will take open threes after coming around two pin-down screens on the weak side of the floor, spaced around an Isaiah Hicks post-up. Seventy-six percent of Berry’s 3-point field goals have been assisted, per Jackson’s mark is even higher — 85.9 percent.

They both have the green light this season, even if it comes at the expense of a post-up look for another Tar Heel.

“Coach just wants the best shot,” Pinson said. “He’d rather it go inside first and then we shoot them, but he said, ‘Justin and Joel, they make them.’ So he can’t really get mad at them.”

Since Williams started coaching at North Carolina in 2003, the Tar Heels have never ranked higher than 199th in the country in the percentage of 3-point field goal attempts over field goal attempts, per Simply put, relatively few of UNC’s shots come from beyond the arc.

This season, the team ranks 314th in the country in that category, despite shooting 37 percent from deep as a team.

There’s a gap there — most teams that shoot that well from beyond the arc and have two deadly shooters like Berry and Jackson would increase their volume from deep. But the gap, the persistence in playing an inside-out style of basketball, is the way Williams likes it. His players appreciate it too.

“We still know that we gotta get the ball down low, and we don’t have a problem with that,” Berry said. “We want to get it down there because if they crash in, that’s an open opportunity for us out on the wing. So we don’t mind it all.”

Williams’ offense also doesn’t limit great shooters.

“He’s always let good 3-point shooters shoot,” Hicks said. “I would say that’s his thing. I wouldn’t say he ever limited Danny Green’s or Wayne Ellington’s shot attempts. It’s all about, ‘They are good shooters, so let ‘em shoot.’”

Let them shoot, but not quite as much as Steph and Klay. Jackson and Berry straddle the theoretical 3-point line: They take as many open threes as they can while still playing within the offense. Williams will take that — most times.

“If we are the Steph and Klay that I know, where they are making threes, then I don’t think he could say anything,” Berry said.

“I mean, it’s three points. Three points add up to a lot of points.”

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