Roy Williams noted Berry’s growing pains a few weeks ago, which is not uncommon for a rookie point guard trying to learn UNC’s fast-paced offense.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle, it’s just a lot to learn,” Berry told reporters following the win. “It’s a lot to adjust to because in high school you’re just a point guard and you don’t have to call out plays while the game is going on. It’s not that I’m having difficulty learning it, it’s just a lot to learn and it’s a hard position to play.”
It’s not only learning the plays, but also learning where his teammates like to receive passes and where they’re going to be, either on the perimeter or in the post, when he penetrates the lane. That level of understanding arrives through repetition and shared experiences.
It was apparent against the Buckeyes that Berry is starting to settle down and play with more confidence. On his second possession of the game, he penetrated in transition and then kicked out to Marcus Paige for a 3-ball from the left wing.
Berry gave UNC its largest lead at 33-21 late in the first half with a deep 3-pointer from out front after connecting on a floater on the previous possession. He also worked effectively filling the lane in one fast break, streaking down the right side to work a back-and-forth with Justin Jackson that resulted in a layup for his classmate.
In the second half, Berry penetrated OSU’s zone yet again and kicked out to Theo Pinson for an open three that didn’t fall.
Berry finished with five points on 2-of-2 shooting and a season-high four assists without a turnover in 11 minutes.
“In the first half Joel gave us a nice lift,” Williams said. “I was mad at him in the second half because of a loose ball. He should have gotten the loose ball over there in the far corner, but he did some good things. I guess he’s had at least three games in a row that he’s given us a spark.”
It’s actually been four games in a row. Berry missed 15 of his 19 field goal attempts through the first seven games of the season. He’s connected on 9-of-12 in his last four. The Apopka, Fla. native also has a 7:0 assist-error ratio during that span.
“I feel way more comfortable,” Berry said. “I’ve been trying to start in practice being more aggressive and that carries over into the games. So I’m starting to feel more comfortable.”
His improved play has been apparent to his teammates as well.
“He knocked down some shots,” sophomore guard Nate Britt said. “He hit a floater and he hit a three, and they were both big plays for us. The last few games he’s started to play like himself and that’s what we need. We need everyone to contribute so we can be a deep team.”
Berry’s play of late has earned him quality minutes. He’s averaging 13.0 minutes per game over his last four after averaging 9.1 through the first seven.
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