CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – When Justin Jackson got the ball in his hands in the first half of Saturday’s game, he looked for the pass inside. After all, that’s the way Roy Williams likes it.
The opening was rarely there.
Jackson then made his mark from the perimeter, knocking down four 3-pointers – the ninth time this season he’s made four or more treys in a game – and scoring 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the first half of No. 10 North Carolina’s 65-41 win over No.14 Virginia.
The junior wing utilized his teammates’ screens to find openings against the Cavaliers’ pack-line defense and got into a rhythm, one that sometimes had him letting the ball fly from deep.
“If I missed it, Coach probably wouldn’t be as happy on some of them,” Jackson told reporters after the game. “At the moment I guess I thought I was open... I was just a little bit deeper than probably what they thought I would shoot it.”
The Tomball, Tex. native was the Tar Heels’ offense for the first 20 minutes, outscoring his teammates by two points. With one minute remaining in the half, his 18 points matched UVA’s total. And while Jackson was finding success from beyond the arc, the Hoos drew a blank in the column, misfiring on all eight of their 3-point attempts.
“That’s what Justin does,” junior guard Joel Berry said. “He’s a scorer; he’s more aggressive this year. That’s what we need from him. He did a great job of carrying us in the first half. He’s capable of doing that.”
The Tar Heels entered halftime with a 34-22 lead, but had yet to establish any presence in the post. Senior forward Kennedy Meeks had failed to register any points or rebounds, while Isaiah Hicks had scored four points on three field goal attempts and grabbed three rebounds.
“I was just a little frustrated in the first half because I really couldn’t find the right position inside,” Meeks said. “They do a tremendous job double teaming, so it was a little change for me and Isaiah. We kind of shied away from being aggressive.”
UNC returned to its standard balanced style after halftime, as Meeks powered down his defender in the post for a layup on UNC’s first possession. Jackson’s early efficiency drew Virginia’s attention, and while Tony Bennett’s squad limited the lanky wing to two second-half points, his role of decoy paid dividends.
“They keyed in on Justin and that just opened up things for everyone else,” Berry said. “Justin did his job of being aggressive and it made them change up their defense to where they focused in on him and so we were able to get the ball down low.
Meeks did a better job of establishing low post position and made quick decisions before Virginia could collapse with its double teams.
“The double teams were coming and Kennedy was reading them perfectly,” said junior Theo Pinson, who found Meeks inside with several passes. “He did a great job tonight.”
Meeks turned his entire game around, scoring 13 points in the half and securing seven rebounds. Hicks also elevated his play, finishing the game with 10 points. It wasn’t just the big who put an emphasis on post presence in the second half, but rather the entire Tar Heel unit.
Jackson’s lone second-half bucket came off a tip-in on an errant 3-point attempt, while Pinson added a pair of layups. UNC scored 20 of its 34 points in the paint after halftime.The Tar Heels 48.1 percent (13-of-27) in the first half and 45.2 percent (14-of-31) after the break.