As he often does, Roy Williams opened his postgame press conference frankly. The North Carolina men’s basketball team head coach had one way to describe his team’s 82-65 victory over third-seeded Miami (22-9, 11-7 ACC).
“Weird game to say the least,” Williams said.
He wasn’t wrong. Among the list of Thursday night’s shenanigans were Miami’s 14-0 run to open the game, First-team All-ACC forward Luke Maye scoring just two points, and Miami guard Lonnie Walker IV fouling graduate transfer Cameron Johnson on a three-quarter court heave to end the first half.
A few months ago, senior Theo Pinson leading the Tar Heels (24-9, 11-7 ACC) in scoring would have topped that list of absurdities. But Thursday was just business as usual for the senior guard, whose 25 points and 11 rebounds gave him his second double-double in as many nights.
Pinson carried the Tar Heels down the stretch. He scored 15 points in the game’s final 8:09. The Tar Heels started that stretch leading by just three points, but by the end of Pinson’s offensive explosion, UNC had a comfortable double-digit victory.
The flurry started with a layup quickly followed by a three-pointer and a pretty finish off the glass, each basket extending the Tar Heel lead to six.
What ensued made it clear to Pinson that this was his night.
With the lead trimmed to three and the shot clock winding down, Pinson found the ball in his hand in the right corner. He had no choice but to shoot, sinking his second triple of the night.
The three-pointer wasn’t a visible part of Pinson’s game until recently, though fellow guard Kenny Williams said nobody in the UNC locker room is surprised by it. Williams said this new element changes the Tar Heels’ offense.
“You’ve gotta respect him,” Williams said. “He’s starting to hit his threes and teams are gonna have to start respecting that. That’ll open it up for everybody else.”
After Williams drew a charge in transition, Pinson found himself open in front of the basket on the other end. His thunderous slam brought the UNC fans in attendance to their feet and pushed the Tar Heels’ lead back to six. The dunk kicked off a 13-0 UNC run which closed out the win.
Williams said Pinson found a different gear that he hadn’t seen before – one the Tar Heels needed on Thursday night.
“Theo was a beast tonight,” Williams said. “He’s had nights where he goes at it, but I think tonight was just different. He was a different Theo.”
His 25 points were a career-high and Pinson has now scored in double figures in eight straight games. He’s recorded six double-doubles in the last 14 contests.
Pinson came to Chapel Hill as a five-star prospect, but took a supporting role for his first three years, never averaging more than 6.1 points per game in a season. Joel Berry II is thrilled to see his best friend and roommate finally realize his potential
“When he’s out there playing free and being himself, it’s amazing how great he can be,” Berry said. “It’s fun to see him out there taking on the role of being a big time player. That’s what he came here for.”
Even with the bigger role in North Carolina’s offense, Pinson doesn’t want to change his game. It’s gotten him this far.
“I’m not a three-point shooter,” he said. “I’m a playmaker.”
Pinson and Berry know Friday’s ACC Semifinal against Duke will likely be their last match up against the Tar Heels’ biggest rival. But Pinson isn’t overwhelmed by the rivalry or by getting revenge for last weekend’s second-half collapse in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
He just wants another game in North Carolina blue.
“I just want to keep this going – keep this ride going with the guys,” he said. “I have such a good time with them, we’re always laughing and joking.”
“It’s my senior year, I don’t want this ride to end.”
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