Career Night Despite Adversity

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – What made Nate Britt’s career-high 17 points against Syracuse so noteworthy was the adversity of loss and injury that had preceded the performance earlier this month.

Ned Britt, Nate’s grandfather on his father’s side, was a resident of LaGrange, N.C. The little town on the southeast side of Goldsboro was close enough to Chapel Hill to allow for regular trips to watch his grandson play basketball. Since Britt arrived on campus in the summer of 2013, the boy and his granddad had strengthened their bond.

Not long after UNC’s 81-79 win over N.C. State on Jan. 14, Britt learned of his grandfather’s passing at the age of 81.

“We were pretty close,” Britt told reporters following Monday’s 93-83 win. “He came to a lot of my games, especially with me coming to school here in North Carolina. It’s extremely tough. I’ve just tried to keep myself busy with class, homework, practice. My teammates and my coaching staff have been helping me get through it.”

Add to that personal loss the pain of physical injury. In Wednesday’s win over Wake Forest, Britt took a head to his mouth, a collision that required 15 stitches in his upper lip.

“It still hurts,” Britt said. “It’s better, but when I eat it still hurts, when I talk it still hurts, so I’m in a little bit of pain right now.”

Despite the pain in his lip and his heart, Britt managed to turn in a career performance against Syracuse’s imposing 2-3 matchup zone. The best way for the Tar Heels to solve Jim Boeheim’s zone was simple: shoot better from long range.

UNC shot a season-best 56.3 percent from 3-point range on 9-of-16 (56.3) shooting, and a large share of the credit goes to Britt.

“Britt probably was the difference maker in the game,” Boeheim said. “He made four threes and I thought that was the big difference in the game.”

Entering Monday’s contest, Britt had never hit more than two 3-pointers in a single game and had converted just 31.8 percent of his 40 total attempts this season.

Against Syracuse, the sophomore guard connected on four of his five attempts from deep, becoming the first Tar Heel other than Marcus Paige to make at least three 3-pointers in a game this season.

Britt finished with 17 points (the most of any Tar Heel off the bench this season) on 5-of-7 shooting. He added two rebounds, two assists and a steal in a season-high 26 minutes.

It wasn’t just the number of points Britt scored, but when he scored them.

With UNC trailing by a point with 8:10 to play, Britt drilled a three that put the Heels up 64-62.

After a quick Syracuse miss, Britt splashed his second three in as many possessions to extend the Tar Heels’ lead to five. UNC never trailed the rest of the way.

Much has been made about Britt’s offseason decision to switch shooting hands (from left to right). After the game, head coach Roy Williams emphasized that despite some of Britt’s initial struggles, he never doubted his ability to succeed.

“His (right-handed) release looks good and his left-handed release, because of the hitch he had, never looked great,” Williams said. “I never doubted that decision. I was so proud of him for going along with it immediately.”

With freshman Theo Pinson out indefinitely with a broken bone in his foot, and Joel Berry still rehabbing from a groin injury, the Tar Heels needed Britt to elevate his play against the Orange.

“If he shoots like that every game, it’ll go a long way,” forward Brice Johnson said. “That’s what we really need from him… We’re going to need somebody else to be able to get it from back there behind the 3-point line and that’s what he did tonight.”

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