The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Theo Pinson plays usual role — and more — in exhibition win

Theo Pinson

Forward Theo Pinson (1) drops off a pass for forward Sterling Manley (21) against Barton College on Friday night in the Smith Center. 

In five seconds, Theo Pinson gave a textbook definition of who he is as a player.

It started with an inbounds pass. The North Carolina men's basketball team trailed Barton College, 6-2, early in the first half of its Friday night exhibition. Pinson stood on the sideline and looked for a teammate.

Guard Seventh Woods, Pinson’s first option, came off a screen but couldn’t get free. Barton College defender Jeff Gordon took notice and inched closer. And when Pinson eventually inbounded the ball to forward Luke Maye, Gordon tried to jump the pass. That was his mistake.

As soon as Maye touched the ball, he’d already locked eyes with Pinson, who was now taking off down the right side of the court. A soft pass found Pinson’s hands in stride. He took one dribble and two steps before elevating, shielding a defender with his left arm in air while finishing a scoop layup with his right.

The senior forward hit the floor and gathered himself. But as soon as he looked up, he saw a lazy inbounds pass being thrown right above him. Pinson instinctively stretched his 6-foot-6 frame, tipped the ball once, secured it and drew a foul.

He clapped his hands rapidly and celebrated with Woods. In one sequence, he had scored, forced a turnover and brought a crowd of 10,047 — less than half of the Dean E. Smith Center’s full capacity — to its feet.

“It was all right,” Pinson said of his performance after UNC’s 91-80 win. “I can play a little better.”

His final stat line was one of versatility: 14 points, three assists, two blocks and three steals in 25 minutes. The energy and playmaking, perhaps the two parts of his game he’s known for most, were there. But, albeit in a game that didn’t count, there were new things, too.

Over the summer, Pinson gained about 10 pounds in preparation of playing more minutes at power forward. UNC’s official roster lists him at 220 pounds now. Well, did it make a difference?

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Pinson said. “Just going through contact and finishing and being able to seal my man if I do get in the post.”

Although he posted up just a few times on the right block, Pinson was efficient in doing so. On one clear-out, he backed down his defender after getting cut off on the baseline. Two dribbles to the inside later, he drew a second defender and dumped the ball off to forward Walker Miller for an easy layup.

On another play, Pinson sealed his defender off on the right block and caught an overhead Jalek Felton pass for an easy finish in the paint. On defense, Pinson admitted he wasn’t at his best against Bobby Stenborg, who led Barton with 15 points and beat UNC baseline a few times.

“No. 24, he was very mobile — way more mobile than I thought,” Pinson said. “He could really play … Just a different situation I got put into today.”

Pinson also spent a little time at point guard. This was, of course, out of necessity. On Monday, UNC announced that guard Joel Berry II would miss about four weeks with a broken bone in his right hand.

Two days later, it was revealed that Berry broke his hand punching a door after losing in a video game to Pinson, his roommate. More details emerged on Friday night. The game was NBA 2K18. Pinson was playing as the Cleveland Cavaliers, Berry as the Golden State Warriors.

“I was whoopin’ that butt,” Pinson explained. “And he got mad.”

Woods, a sophomore, and Felton, a first-year, were the other primary ball handlers in Berry’s absence. Woods finished with four points, two assists and one turnover in 19 minutes. Felton had a flashier stat line of five points and seven assists to one turnover. But neither Pinson nor Williams were ecstatic about the backcourt’s play.

“We got some emotions out of the way out of the way,” Williams said. “We got some silliness out of the way tonight, hopefully.”

Ultimately, this game was a scrimmage, and it was played like one. All 14 available Tar Heels logged minutes, and 12 scored. Guard Brandon Robinson threw a lob pass to nobody, and guard Andrew Platek hit the side of the backboard on a 3-pointer. Maye attempted a behind-the-back pass on a fast break. When a Barton player picked it off, he grimaced — but he smiled and shook his head, too.

For Pinson, who played the most minutes on the team, it was a similar mantra.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

“Just like LeBron said, I need to get in shape,” he said. “But it was fun just getting back out there.”