North Carolina's Joel Berry II (2) reacts following basket against Florida State during the second half of a Saturday's game in Chapel Hill. Berry and the No. 9 Tar Heels are rolling, having won five straight in ACC play.
By Ross Martin
Special to the Times
Since its disappointing and embarassing loss to Georgia Tech on Dec. 31, 2016, North Carolina has run off five straight Atlantic Coast Conference wins to extend its record to 17-3 and return to the top 10 in the Associated Press rankings.
On Saturday, the then No. 11 Tar Heels used a variety of lineup combinations to handle a tough Florida State team, ranked ninth, 96-83 for their fifth ACC win in six outings. The game included a late rally sparked by a Theo Pinson slam and 3-point shot.
It was also the first time UNC, which moved to No. 9 in the rankings, has had three players score more than 20 points since its NCAA tournament win over LIU in 2011. Isaiah Hicks and Justin Jackson each had 22 points, while point guard Joel Berry II had a game-high 26 points.
Next up for North Carolina is a matchup with Boston College (9-9, 2-3 ACC) on Saturday in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The game tips off at noon and can be seen on the ACC Network.
In his third game back from foot surgery, the Florida State win was Pinson’s coming out game as the 6-foot-6 wing from Greensboro finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
He spent parts of the game admirably guarding 7-1, 304-pound Seminole center Michael Ojo when UNC went to a small lineup.
Pinson put an exclamation mark on the his performance game with his high-flying, thunderous dunk with 5:49 remaining in the second half. It extended UNC’s lead to 82-76.
“I got my whole body behind me and the middle of the paint opened up like the Red Sea,” Pinson explained. “I was like, ‘Take off, don’t lay it up. Take off.”
Head coach Roy Williams and UNC’s players raved about the dunk, feeling it was not only a momentum shift for the game, but also Pinson’s season.
“I thought this was gonna be good,” Williams said about the dunk. “It was a big time play. ... It got the crowd excited.”
“Getting a dunk always brings intensity and Theo did that for us,” Berry said. “He hit a big-time 3 and that is what we needed from him. He came off the bench and gave us some good minutes. It is just good to see him out there competing. I think he needed a game like this to get himself back going.”
Right now Pinson is coming off the bench, but is earning more minutes as he works back himself back into the lineup.
NO. 800 FOR ROY
On Monday night, UNC defeated Syracuse 85-68 to give Williams his 800th career win as a head coach.
Williams reached 800 wins in terms of seasons (29) the fastest of any coach and the second fastest in terms of games (1,012) behind Adolph Rupp. He is the ninth coach to reach 800 wins as an NCAA Division I coach. Legendary UNC coach Dean Smith finished his career with 879 wins.
Williams, who began his career as head coach at Kansas, is 800-212 overall and 382-111 at UNC.
Berry discussed his coach and the 800 wins:
“Just to be a part of that legacy and a part of what Coach is doing, I’m honored to be a part of it,” Berry told reporters after the game. “He was more happy with us reaching our 17th win because it is all about what we are doing right now. At the same time we realize that it is a great milestone for him.
“He is a special man. He is a great guy and I love him a lot. I am honored to a be able to be a part of something like this because he is a Hall-of-Fame coach and I wouldn’t want anyone else to be my college coach other than Coach Williams.”
REBOUNDING AND ROLLING
Dominant rebounding, offensive production from star players and improved post play have the Tar Heels rolling as they have scored 89, 107, 93, 96, and 85 points in their five ACC wins.
UNC is first in the nation in rebounding margin, grabbing 46.1 rebounds per game (also first in the nation) while holding their opponents to 31.7 per game for a margin of 14.4. The Heels are second nationally in offensive rebounds with 16.5 per game.
UNC’s two stars, Berry and Jackson, have continued their consistent and high-level offensive production throughout the season.
Berry is averaging 15.8 points per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3-point range. Jackson is averaging a team-high 18.0 points per game while shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from behind the arc.
But it is UNC’s big men, Hicks and senior Kennedy Meeks, who have come on and stepped up recent games. Against Clemson, Meeks scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
At Wake Forest on Jan. 11, Meeks had 18 points and 11 rebounds Isaiah Hicks had 16 points and five rebounds.
Against Florida State, Hicks had 22 points and seven rebounds while Monday against Syracuse, Meeks had 15 points and 12 boards and Hicks led UNC with 20 points and eight rebounds.
Currently, Hicks is averaging 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 23.4 minutes per game while shooting 60.5 percent from the field. Meeks is averaging 12.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in 23.7 minutes per game while shooting 51.8 percent.
BRADLEY BACK SATURDAY
During his radio show Tuesday night, Williams said that freshman center Tony Bradley will practice on Wednesday and is expected to play on Saturday at Boston College.
“Unless something’s happened that I don’t know about, Tony will be able to practice tomorrow, and if he goes through practice all right, he’ll play this weekend,” Williams said.
Bradley has missed two games (Florida State and Syracuse) after hitting his head and suffering a concussion during the first half of the Wake Forest game.
In 18 games, Bradley is averaging 8.1 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 54.3 percent from the field and 63.8 percent from the free-throw line in 15.1 minutes per game.
Ross Martin covers North Carolina basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com and CBS Sports. Check out more of his work at northcarolina.247sports.com.