CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Justin Jackson assumed a new role in No. 5 North Carolina’s 93-67 win over Long Beach State on Tuesday, absorbing the injured Luke Maye’s minutes at the four as Roy Williams was forced to play small ball out of necessity.
Maye, who missed the game with a left ankle sprain suffered late in Sunday’s win over Chattanooga, is UNC’s primary backup at the four spot. Freshman forward Tony Bradley has focused solely on the five thus far, leaving a void in the lineup behind starting four-man Isaiah Hicks.
Theo Pinson thrived at the four down the stretch last season, but with the junior wing sidelined with a broken foot for another 5-9 weeks, Jackson was tasked with manning both positions in the Tar Heels’ blowout victory. The 6-foot-8 wing logged a team-high 29 minutes, including 16 minutes in the first half, and played 11 minutes at the four spot.
“Playing the four on offense, I love doing that,” Jackson said after the win. “It’s just a little bit more of a mismatch with bigger guys guarding me. But then defensively, I’ve got to play a lot more harder and try to play a lot more stronger because the guys are a little bit bigger than me.”
While Jackson is given more freedom in the freelance offense when he slides to the four, the counter aspect is he's forced to elevate his rebounding presence, which has been a challenge at times throughout his career. That wasn't the case against the 49ers, however, as he posted a double-double with 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting and 10 rebounds.
Williams utilized four different small lineups with the lone constants being Jackson at the four and freshman wing Brandon Robinson at the three. Senior guard Nate Britt and sophomore wing Kenny Williams split time at off guard alongside of either junior guard Joel Berry or freshman point Seventh Woods.
Maye Out with Ankle Injury
The good news is that an X-ray on Maye’s left ankle was negative on Monday. The bad news is the sophomore forward is likely to be sidelined for the entirety of UNC's trip to Hawaii.
"My guess is that there’s no chance that he’ll play at any level in Hawaii," Williams said. "That’s just a guess, but it’s a pretty strong guess. So I’m guessing probably 2-3 weeks.”
Joel Berry’s Hot Hand
The junior point guard’s defense has been the talk of the opening week of the season, although his scoring production has been the primary driver of UNC’s offense. Berry led the Tar Heels with 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting (2-of-4 3FG) in Tuesday’s win, boosting his season scoring average to 21.3.
“I’m just getting more shot opportunities, and I’m just trying to shoot it and make it,” Berry said. “That’s always my thought process. I’m just taking open shots. I’m not trying to force anything, not trying to play outside of my game. I’m just doing what I have to do to help this team win. If that’s knocking down shots, I’m capable of doing that.”
Through three games, the preseason All-ACC first-team selection is shooting 60 percent (18-30) from the floor, 53.3 percent (8-15) from 3-point range and 90.9 percent (20-22) from the free throw line.
The Tar Heels brought their defensive energy off the tip and confounded the 49ers in building an early double-digit lead. LBSU was held scoreless on its first seven possessions, missing four field goal attempts and turning the ball over three times.
By the time the 49ers started their eighth possession, they trailed 10-0.
50 Marks the Spot
UNC shot above 50 percent for the first time this season, knocking down 53.3 percent of its shots (32-of-60). LBSU struggled to remove the lid, converting on 36.4 of its attempts.
The Tar Heels improved 177-3 under Roy Williams when shooting 50 percent or higher.
The team departs on Wednesday for a five-game road trip that begins in Honolulu and ends in Bloomington, Ind. Hawaii, a NCAA Tournament team a year ago, welcomes UNC on Friday night (1am EST).