And then a switch flipped, and he became the Tar Heels most consistent scorer and prevented UNC from being swept by the Wolfpack for the first time since 2002-03, the last year of Matt Doherty’s tumultuous tenure.
Pinson scored 11 points in the second half of that game, shooting a perfect 4-4 from the field and converting three foul shots in the last 25 seconds of play. But his most important basket came with 2:10 left and UNC clinging to a three-point lead. Pinson drove in the lane, went past two defenders and scooped in a layup to give his team some breathing room.
The game against the Wolfpack marked the first of six consecutive games with double-figures for the senior, the first time he’s done so in his career.
Two days later against Notre Dame, he contributed a game-high 10 rebounds and played the role of playmaker, dropping a team-high five assists. But it was his scoring that was most encouraging. Pinson scored 16 points on an efficient 6-10 clip. His third double-double of the season extended UNC’s win streak to four games.
It was Pinson who was instrumental in reversing the course of a team that seemed to be close to falling apart just two weeks before with his newfound scoring ability.
He followed that win with two of the best statistical games of his career. Pinson played catalyst again against Louisville, giving UNC its first road win against the Cardinals in school history. Dropping 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while shooting a perfect 6-6 from the line, he helped deliver an easy win for the Tar Heels in a game that was supposed to be hard-fought.
But it was the game that followed against Syracuse on Feb. 21 that really showed his importance to the team, not only with his play, but with his composure under pressure. UNC led most of the game, but the Orange gained confidence in the second half on their home court. Pinson scored a career-high 23 points in that game, including 16 second half points. UNC needed all of those points to overcome a tough team in a hostile environment.
“When Syracuse came back and tied the game up, I was like, ‘Been here’,” Pinson said. We’re just gonna do what we do and get back in this game and go make a play.”
His leadership and willingness to carry a scoring load is something that has not been seen of Pinson throughout his four years at UNC.
The Tar Heels ended the season with back-to-back disheartening losses, first on his senior night against Miami and then in Durham against Duke on Saturday.
But the losses do not diminish Pinson’s influence in propelling his squad to a 6-2 record since Feb. 3.
Over his past eight games he is averaging 12.4 points, seven rebounds, 1.3 steals and a team-high 6.3 assists on 52.9 percent shooting. With the clock ticking toward midnight in Pinson’s collegiate career, the senior forward is playing the most confident basketball of his career at the most important time.
If he can keep it up, the Tar Heels could find themselves in familiar territory at the beginning of April.
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