GREENVILLE, S.C. – Justin Jackson shook off his shooting slump and shot No. 1 seed North Carolina past No. 16 seed Texas Southern, 103-64, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
The ACC Player of the Year scored 19 of his game-high 21 points before halftime, knocking down five of his first six 3-pointers to tie Shammond Williams for the single-season school record for made 3-pointers (95).
“The thing is he's had a great year, not just a really good year, but he's had a great year,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “He put a little bit more pressure [on himself], thought he had to try to do more. And I told him all he had to be was be Justin, and I think that's what he was today. He was sensational for us.”
Jackson entered the NCAA Tournament struggling from long range, converting 7-of-31 3-point attempts over his last four games. The Tomball, Texas native only needed 20 minutes to set personal NCAA Tournament games highs in scoring and made 3-pointers.
“All of it goes back to the work that I’ve put in,” Jackson said. “Like you might talk about in the media that I need to shoot better, I knew in my head that I needed to. So after the ACC Tournament, I tried to get into the gym as much as I possibly could and just try to get back to where I was.”
Another Injury Scare
Point guard injuries thwarted potential national championship runs for UNC in 1984 (Kenny Smith) and in 2012 (Kendall Marshall), and Tar Heel fans were forced to hold their breath after Joel Berry fell to the ground clutching his right ankle after landing on a defender’s foot with 16:36 to play.
The junior point guard left the court with athletic trainer Doug Halverson and returned to the bench several minutes later with the official diagnosis of a turned right ankle. Berry checked back with 11:45 to play and logged four more minutes. He finished with three points and three assists in 22 minutes.
“I just landed on somebody’s foot,” Berry said. “I’m fine, just scared myself a little bit, but other than that, I’m good. I just tested it out, so I’m fine.”
Williams acknowledged being worried when he saw Berry on the ground in pain, telling reporters it reminded him of Kansas's 2002 first round matchup with No. 16 seed Holy Cross when point Kirk Hinrich suffered a sprained ankle and was unable to return. The 14th-year UNC head coach was even able to crack a joke after the scare when asked about Berry's status for Sunday.
“My guess is it will stiffen up a little bit, but I feel certain that he'll be able to go,” Williams said. “And he said his momma's here, so she can clap her hands together like Mr. Miyagi and put her hands on his ankle and I'm sure it will make it feel better.”
With 7-footer Marvin Jones representing Texas Southern’s primary post player of any size, UNC’s bigs went to work exploiting their size advantage. Isaiah Hicks scored 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting, while Kennedy Meeks (13), Tony Bradley (12) and Luke Maye (10) all reached double figures.
The quartet combined to shoot 67.7 percent from the field (21-of-31).
In a matchup pairing the nation’s best against one of its worst on the boards, UNC took care of business, doubling up Texas Southern, 54-27, and securing a 20-6 edge on the offensive glass. The Tar Heels held a 17-2 edge in second-chance points at halftime and finished with a 29-8 advantage.
UNC created a working margin in the game’s opening moments with a 16-0 run and then dismissed any notion of a potential competitive game with a 14-0 spurt some five minutes later to take a 45-22 lead.
The pair of runs spanned six minutes and 53 seconds.
Crossing the Century Mark
In the final minute of play, senior walk-on Kanler Coker attacked the baseline and scored on a nifty up-and-under layup that pushed UNC over 100 points, prompting the entire Tar Heel bench to erupt in celebration. The moment was not lost on the former Tar Heel quarterback.
“I heard it and looked over, and those guys were going crazy,” Coker said. “That made my day.”
UNC’s 39-point margin of victory and its 25-point halftime lead tie the school records for third-largest point margins in a NCAA Tournament game.
UNC advances to the Round of 32 on Sunday for a matchup with No. 8 seed Arkansas. Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks topped No. 9 seed Seton Hall, 77-71, in Friday’s first game in Greenville.