Jackson Breaks Through

GREENSBORO, N.C. – With Virginia’s vaunted defense harassing the North Carolina big men, Justin Jackson’s shooting took down the top-seeded Cavs, 71-67, to send the Tar Heels to the ACC Tournament final.

The freshman wing led all North Carolina scorers with a career-high 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
On a night where the four Tar Heel big men combined to score 25 points, Jackson was able to give his team a big lift.

“Justin is such a good cutter and spacer of the floor,” UNC point guard Marcus Paige said. “He did a good job finding the seems and making some three point shots and layups, which is big for us.”

Coming into his freshman season, expectations were high for the Top 10-ranked prospect. The Tomball, Texas native was heralded as the perimeter scorer the Tar Heel’s sorely coveted last season.

While there were flashes of potential early on, and he ultimately earned a spot on the ACC’s All-Freshman Team, Jackson wasn’t a reliable three-point thread. He hit just 11 of his first 54 attempts from beyond the arc.

But since then, he has delivered – no more so than on Friday night against No. 3 Virginia. Jackson converted four of his five three-point attempts, as he repeatedly took advantage of well-executed screens on the perimeter. He’s now connected on 12 of his last 24 three-point attempts.

“I always knew I was a shooter,” Jackson said. “…I knew it would come around sooner or later. I think after the Duke game, coach and me sat down and I told him it would be all right, it will start coming. I guess, right after that, it started clicking a little bit.”

Jackson made contributions inside the arc as well. With 1:43 on the clock and UNC up just a point, Jackson finished a layup underneath the basket to move the lead back to three points.

Then, with nine seconds left, Jackson received the inbounds pass, and after an foul by Virginia, he calmly sank both free throws to make it a two-possession game.

“I don’t think coach or myself really looks at me as a freshman anymore,” Jackson said. “I’m just like everybody else. I have to step up.”

The focal point for this offense has been its length and size down low. Now, if Jackson can sustain this type of confidence and accuracy from the perimeter, this offense might have found the most important thing of all: balance.

“That’s what we need,” Johnson said. “We need somebody to be able to loosen up defenses like that because they will start keying on him. It’s really good because it opens up things for everybody else.”

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