Jackson Seizes Starting Role

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The identity of North Carolina’s fifth starter had been a question mark heading into the preseason. Freshman Justin Jackson turned it into an exclamation point.

Jackson scored a game-high 18 points in UNC’s first exhibition game, a 111-58 victory over Fayetteville State, on Friday night at the Smith Center. Jackson started the game alongside point guard Marcus Paige, fellow wing player J.P. Tokoto, and post players Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. His inclusion in the first unit apparently was not a difficult decision for UNC’s coaching staff.

“We didn’t talk about it very long because I think he has just played that well in practice,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “When I talked to the staff, I said, ‘This is who I’m thinking about starting. Anybody have any differences in opinion?’ That was with the entire staff, and everybody thought that was the way to go. He has an ability to score the ball, and he made some really good passes tonight as well.”

Jackson shot 6-of-9 from the field, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, and grabbed five rebounds in 22 minutes. He sparked the Tar Heels during an otherwise unproductive first half offensively.

Jackson scored 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field in the first half, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. His teammates, none of whom had more than six points before halftime, combined to shoot 11-of-33 from the floor and 1-of-7 on 3-pointers in the first half.

“He’s a walking bucket,” Meeks said. “He finds those easy baskets.”

Jackson’s presence in the starting lineup provides the Tar Heels with offensive balance on the wing. Tokoto is a versatile contributor, but isn't a consistent perimeter shooter, making Jackson a nice complement to him on the perimeter. Jackson gives the Tar Heels an outside shooting threat in addition to Paige, forcing opponents to monitor more than one player around the 3-point arc.

“It helps with spacing,” Paige said. “People have to honor the fact that he can shoot and score. It gives us a more balanced offensive attack from the jump. At times my freshman and sophomore year, we would have a lineup out there starting that wasn’t exactly five offensive threats on the court. This year, I think that’s one thing that’s different. We can get off to better starts.” That goes for both halves of the game.

Jackson opened the second half against Fayetteville State the same way he started the first. He hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key and beat everyone down the court on the next possession to make a layup on a feed from Tokoto to push UNC’s lead 54-29.

The Tar Heels still have three more weeks of practice and one more exhibition game before their season opener against N.C. Central on Nov. 14, but Jackson is a good bet to start his first college game.

“I have a hard time seeing the lineup shaking out any different than the way it did tonight, and I think everyone would agree with that,” Paige said. “But we obviously have depth at a lot of positions, so Coach can switch it up if someone is not producing.”

Inside Carolina Top Stories