Tag Archives: Joel Berry

Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Duke

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 98-96 home overtime loss to Duke on Saturday night.

Condensed Game:

 

Highlights:

 

  • I sit here on my couch five hours after the game ended and I am still numb. I am still confused. I am still heartbroken. None of that compares to how the players and coaches must be feeling.
  • Bottom line: if you hit your free throws you win this game. Overall, Carolina went 21-for-38 (55.3 percent) at the free throw line. The most painful thing is that the Heels made just five of 10 in the final 1:11 of regulation. If the Heels make any of those five misses, Tre Jones is never in the position to potentially send the game to overtime.
  • Speaking of that end-of-regulation scenario, how (painfully) ironic that it was nearly identical to the end of the Clemson game? Against Clemson, Carolina forgot to foul up three in the waning seconds and gave up the game-tying three. Against Duke, Carolina did foul (maybe a little too quickly) and everything went the Blue Devils’ way to force overtime.
  • Sticking with free throws, you really have to feel for Garrison Brooks. He went 0-for-7 against Boston College. If he makes any of those, Carolina wins. Tonight he went 0-for-5 (including missing the front end of a 1-and-1. If he makes any of those, Carolina wins. Outside of the missed free throws and five turnovers, Brooks played a really strong game. He shot efficiently (9-for-12 for 18 points) and played solid defense on Player of the Year candidate Vernon Carey.
  • Guess how many shots Garrison Brooks took over the final 8:50 of regulation and the 5:00 of overtime? TWO (And both were off broken plays. On the first, Pierce randomly found Brooks in the lane when he got trapped on the baseline. On the second, Brooks received the ball in a late shot clock situation and had to hoist a shot. There were ZERO times when he received an intentional post feed in a scoring position, which had worked so well earlier in the game.
  • How many times has it happened this year? Carolina builds up a double-digit lead, only to fumble it away at the line or with late turnovers. Tonight, the Heels led by 13 with 3:55 left, 10 with 2:10 left, seven with 1:11 left and five points with 20 seconds left in overtime. It’s like there’s this one missing piece, this one play and if Carolina could just get that they would come out on top.
  • Okay, let’s talk about some positive things. We must turn the tide. Christian Keeling is having his best stretch as a Tar Heel. Against Florida State and Duke, two of the best three teams in the ACC, he has scored double digits back-to-back for the first time all season. In those two games he has hit 10 of his 17 shots, two of three three-pointers, and all five of his free throws.
  • Fellow grad transfer Justin Pierce also had a good night, scoring 11 points. The two combined for 24 points in their first ever Duke game.
  • Pierce scored five straight points for Carolina in what looked like it would be the most important stretch and turning point of the game prior to the outcome being what it was. With 1:51 left before halftime and Carolina clinging to a four point lead, Armando Bacot picked up his second foul and went to the bench to join Garrison Brooks and Leaky Black in the two-foul club. Seldom used Walker Miller came in to guard Vernon Carey, who already had amassed 16 points. In those 111 seconds, Carolina stretched the lead to nine (plus-five in this span) with a line-up of Cole Anthony, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce, Andrew Platek, and Walker Miller. Each team had three possessions. Duke missed a three, hit two free throws (Carey), and had a turnover. Carolina had a Pierce lay-up, a Pierce three, and a Platek (incredibly athletic double-pump) lay-up. Holding off Duke in this stretch to close out the front half (and instead expanding the lead) should have been a huge deal, but instead it will be shelved right alongside Marcus Paige’s three in the 2016 National Championship game. Here’s Platek’s lay-up:

 

  • Also lost to history will be Brooks’ block on Cassius Stanley with seven seconds remaining in regulation to stop Stanley from tying the game. In the moment, it felt like a game-saving play. Sadly it will just be a footnote.
  • Despite all three of Brooks, Bacot, and Black having two first half fouls, the Heels managed the foul trouble (mostly) wisely and none fouled out in regulation (although Bacot and Black both did in overtime). In his postgame comments, Bacot lamented that he could have secured one of the free throw rebounds had he been in the game. Roy Williams pointed out that Leaky’s defense on Tre Jones would have been beneficial when Jones put the Duke team on his back.
  • Let’s go back to Walker Miller. What must have been going through his head when Bacot fouled out, Brooks was back in the locker room with an injury and he had to step to the free throw line in a tie, overtime situation against Duke? Miller made one of two (although the first nearly dropped as well) to give the Heels a one-point lead which would not be relinquished until the final six seconds of overtime.
  • Duke landed the first punches in overtime, taking a five-point lead just one minute into the extra session. While it appeared the Heels might be out of gas, they responded with an 11-1 run to take a five point lead with 20 seconds left. Unfortunately they never scored again and the Blue Devils reeled off seven straight for the final 98-96 tally.
  • You never want to blame the refs (especially when you miss 17 free throws), however the previously mentioned Duke 7-0 run was helped by an egregious no-call with 12 seconds left and Carolina up one. Brooks inbounded the ball to Platek, who was bumped, resulting in the ball going out of bounds and being awarded to Duke. So rather than shooting two free throws with 12 seconds left and leading by one (with a chance to go up by three), Carolina had to defend, which lead to the game-winning play. Here’s the no-call:

 

  • Andrew Platek will be quite frustrated with himself for shooting 1-for-4 from the free throw line at the end of regulation and feel like he cost the team the game, but he did some great things. Earlier in the second half, he hit both parts of a one-and-one. On two important plays in the second half, he doubled on Carey, who spun right into the waiting Platek. The first occurrence resulted in a Duke turnover. The second time Carey bulldozed Platek and picked up his fifth foul.
  • As strange as it sounds, Vernon Carey fouling out was a blessing in disguise for Duke. The freshman big man scored 18 in the first half, but had as many points as I did in the second half (zero). He fouled out with Carolina up 13 (77-64) and over the course of the final four minutes of regulation, Duke outscored the Heels 20-7. Carey’s absence opened up the floor for Duke to attack off the dribble, which they did at will.
  • So many good things to be said about what happened in the first 37-38 minutes of the game. Carolina played with intensity. They moved the ball well: assists on 10 of the first 14 field goals. They had a balanced scoring attack: seven Tar Heels scored multiple baskets in the first half and five finished in double-figures. They gang rebounded: seven players had four or more rebounds. Every time Duke punched or threatened, Carolina answered. They were disruptive on defense. Bacot ran the floor really well. On more than one occasion, I uttered: “That’s a Carolina fast break!” Here’s a great example of one of those fast breaks (Kendall Marshall pitch-ahead style):

  • Cole Anthony felt like he was more in the flow of the offense tonight. There was more cohesion. He took fewer shots, made a higher percentage of those shots, got more teammates involved, grabbed 11 rebounds, and hit nine of his 10 free throws. Of course he’s only played 12 college basketball games, so he still made some freshman mistakes. One in particular came with 2:00 left in regulation. Carolina was up nine and Duke applied pressure. Anthony got sped up and didn’t pull the ball back out when he got across the timeline to run some clock, but rather pushed on towards the basket for a difficult and contested lay-up. Duke quickly converted the miss into a three-pointer. Down to a six-point lead with 1:45 to go. From there the game turned into the parade to the free throw line, which we already know how that turned out.
  • As has happened seldom this year, the Tar Heels both hit the 80-point plateau (and in fact scored a season high 96) and achieved a 50 percent field goal success rate. In fact, the first half Carolina shot 59 percent and scored 44 points (the most Duke had given up in a first half this season).
  • Leaky Black played a solid and diverse game before fouling out. He finished with eight points, seven rebounds, and a career-high nine assists; just a few plays shy of a double-double. Black also seems to have a knack for hitting the first shot of the game. He’s done so multiple times this season, and did so again tonight.
  • Something to keep an eye on: Tonight we saw Leaky Black play some point guard, and Cole Anthony slide over to shooting guard. Not sure if it will be a look Coach Williams employs more, but could be a good wrinkle in the offense.
  • A painful number to see: Carolina led the game for 41:50. Duke led for just 1:47. The game was also tied for 1:23.
  • Just to say it again: Carolina had a double-digit lead as late as 2:07. Very (very) eerily similar to the Clemson loss.
  • Joel Berry was honored at halftime tonight and his jersey hung in the rafters. Great to have him in the house for a game where his late-game sure-handedness and clutch free throw making ability would have come in handy. Here’s video of the halftime ceremony:

 

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

 

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a road game against Wake Forest on Tuesday, February 11. Tip is at 8:00pm ET on ACC Network.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Oregon (Battle 4 Atlantis)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 78-74 win over Oregon in the consolation game of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Friday afternoon.

Highlights:

 

  • Big time win for Carolina to close out the Battle 4 Atlantis with a 2-1 record. Heading into the upcoming Ohio State, (at) Virginia, (at) Gonzaga gauntlet, that 2-1 record provides a lot more cushion than 1-2 would have. Additionally, this win will be a nice resume-boost come March.
  • Congratulations to Coach Williams (877) for passing Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp (876) for 5th place on the all-time D1 coaching victories list.

  • The stat that made the difference in the game: Coming into today, Carolina was hitting 60.3% (82-for-136) of their free throws, good for 324th in the country. What has been a weakness all season, turned into a strength today: The Tar Heels hit 20 of their 21 charity stripe attempts (95.2%). This number included 11-for-11 in the second half.

  • The Tar Heel bench is beginning to look like the MASH unit on the sideline for the Looney Tunes in Space Jam. The infirmary has already claimed Jeremiah Francis, Anthony Harris, and Sterling Manley. Leaky Black sprained his foot against Michigan, and while he was able to start the game, was only able to play 8:30 (all in the first half). Garrison Brooks suffered a corneal abrasion (a surface scratch) against Michigan and had to wear what looked like shop glasses to protect his eye. Brandon Robinson suffered from Joel Berry syndrome: He stepped on a Ducks’ foot and re-tweaked his bad ankle. We await a status update on all three Tar Heels.
  • Garrison Brooks was able to overcome his Cyclops-like condition to play 32 minutes, score nine points (on 4-for-6 shooting), pull down 10 rebounds and block three shots. His combination inside with Armando Bacot is becoming a dominant force.
  • When Brandon Robinson tweaked his ankle, he immediately ran back to the locker room (2:30 into the second half) and appeared to be in a great deal of pain. However, he checked back in just 1:30 of game time later. Robinson was able to manage a career high 13 points, hit three three-pointers, dish four assists, block a shot, and grab two steals. Perhaps most importantly, Robinson played some key (and certainly painful) defensive possessions against Oregon’s dynamic point guard, Payton Pritchard. The most crucial of these possessions came with 20 seconds remaining and Carolina clinging to a three-point lead. Robinson did a marvelous job staying with Pritchard and forcing him into a deep three; however, discerning viewers caught Robinson crouching on the sideline in a great deal of pain after the possession.
  • Hard to believe we haven’t talked about Armando Bacot’s performance yet. Bacot, just like Brandon Robinson, set a career high with 23 points. He also had a career high six blocks. The combination of the points and his 12 rebounds (seven of which were offensive) gave Bacot his fourth double-double in five games. The big freshman was just four blocks shy of a triple-double. Most impressively Bacot, shooting just 41% on his free throws this season, hit nine out of 10. This performance at the line will be imperative for the type of inside game he plays.

  • Carolina has struggled with three-point shooting. The team got off to an encouraging 4-for-8 start today, made by four different players (Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Justin Pierce, and Christian Keeling). Unfortunately, the Heels only hit two of their final 15 attempts and finished with a 26.1 percentage for the game.
  • The Tar Heels were saddled with a good deal of foul trouble. Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, and Garrison Brooks each had four fouls while Brandon Robinson and Justin Pierce each had three. Curiously, no other Tar Heels committed a foul.
  • Anthony’s foul trouble, paired with Leaky Black’s injury, forced KJ Smith into playing 8:16 (by far the most game time he’s seen as a Tar Heel). Smith didn’t contribute much on the stat line, did have two assists and just one turnover. One of the assists was a beautiful drop-off to Armando Bacot for a dunk. Anthony’s fourth foul came with 10:16 remaining but Smith’s steady play allowed the freshman to stay on the bench until after the under-4:00 media timeout.
  • The foul trouble and injuries also created some unconventional line-ups. When KJ Smith checked in at 10:16, he was paired with Brandon Huffman, Garrison Brooks, Christian Keeling, and Brandon Robinson.
  • Let’s talk about the blocks. Carolina had nine IN THE FIRST HALF. They finished the game with 12. The most impressive of these was the highlight of the game when 6’3” Cole Anthony went up to reject 6’7” Shakur Juiston in transition.

  • The second most impressive highlight was also from Mr. Anthony. Just a minute before his block, Anthony deflected an Oregon attempted inbounds pass, chased down the loose ball, and threw down a one-handed slam in transition.

  • Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce both had a more dynamic first half, finishing with seven points each. However, Carolina will need the two grad transfers to put together a complete game in order to achieve this teams’ goals. Keeling and Pierce combined to shoot 0-for-9 in the second half. Keeling, in particular, looks uncomfortable or unsure of his shot. Keeling comes in with the reputation of a scorer, and will hopefully soon settle in and find his touch (and confidence).
  • Here’s what a senior adds: With around 13:00 minutes remaining in the game, Keeling missed a three and in the rebound action the ball rolled toward the baseline. Brandon Robinson, bad ankle and all, was able to save the ball and throw it directly to Garrison Brooks for a lay-up plus an and-one foul shot (which Brooks made).
  • Now seven games into the season, Carolina is still yet to hit 80 points or shoot 50% from the floor. Quite the anomaly for a Roy Williams-coached club.
  • The events surrounding the final media timeout of the game were quite interesting. As previously mentioned, this is when Cole Anthony checked back in. Carolina had mounted a 10 point lead which Oregon whittled down to six. The play that led to the under-4:00 media timeout was an incorrectly adjudicated out-of-bounds call which gave Oregon the ball, to go with the momentum they had already built up. This seemingly incorrect decision contributed to the closing moments becoming more tense than they otherwise might’ve been. The other curious happening during this media timeout was that someone involved in the on-court timeout entertainment apparently stole the game ball.
  • While they were the flashiest, Cole Anthony’s dunk and block weren’t the most important moments of his play. Saddled with four fouls, the freshman scored six of Carolina’s final eight points after Oregon cut the lead to one with 1:30 left. Most impressively, four of these points were pressure-filled one-and-one free throws. The final two points were also one-and-one free throws, completed by none other than the gritty Brandon Robinson.

 

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

 

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is the Big 10 / ACC Challenge at home against Ohio State on Wednesday, December 4. Tip is at 9:30ET on ESPN.

Twitter: tarheelhoopblog
Twitter: isaacschade
Email: tarheelhoopsblog@gmail.com

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Iona (NCAA Tournament – 1st Round)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 88-73 win over Iona on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Highlights:

  • With Luke Maye’s 16 points tonight, three different Tar Heels have scored 500 points this year (Cam Johnson – 580, Coby White – 530, Maye – 502). That’s happened seven previous times in program history. Those seasons each worked out pretty well: 3 National Championships (1992-93, 2008-09, 2016-17), 1 National Runner-Up (1980-81), 2 Final Fours (1994-95, 1997-98), and 1 Elite Eight (1986-87).
  • Roy Williams is now 29-0 all-time in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament.

  • Cam Johnson has made 91 three-pointers this season. He is just the fifth Tar Heel to hit 90 threes in a single season. Justin Jackson (105), Shammond Williams (95), Marcus Paige (94), and Joel Berry (93) are the other four.

  • Coby White now has one or fewer turnovers in four of the last five games. He had achieved this just three times in his 28 games prior.

  • At halftime, both teams had 14 defensive rebounds. The difference was that Carolina also had 14 offensive rebounds to Iona’s two. The Gaels only managed 10 more rebounds the rest of the game, none of which were offensive. Overall, Carolina doubled up Iona on the glass 52-26 and had 25 second chance points to the Gaels’ three.
  • Interestingly, no Tar Heel had double-digit rebounds, but all five starters had between six and nine.
  • This projected to be a high-scoring game with both teams in the top-50 in tempo according to KenPom. However, Iona decided to slow the game down and try to take Carolina out of transition. It worked in the first half with the Heels only scoring two fast break points in that stretch.
  • A big part of why Iona’s plan worked is that they hit 10 three-pointers in the first half while Carolina struggled to run offense against the Gaels’ match-up zone. The second half, however, was a different story. The Gaels hit their second three-pointer of the second half, before missing their next 12 by which point the Heels were up by 18.
  • It’s always a question how freshmen will respond to their first NCAA Tournament game. While most of the team was struggling in the first half, it was Coby White and Nassir Little who led the way offensively. White scored eight of the team’s first 12. Nassir Little picked up his second foul with 8:49 left before halftime, but stayed in the game and proceeded to score Carolina’s next three buckets. Little finished second on the team in scoring with 19 (behind Johnson’s 21) on an efficient 9-for-13 shooting.

  • While being less of a factor than his classmates, Leaky Black saw his first game action since spraining his ankle on January 29 against Georgia Tech. He secured three rebounds in the last four minutes of the first half and played well other than a turnover in the closing seconds before halftime.
  • The seniors were the primary culprits of the first-half woes. The three combined to shoot 6-for-22, including 1-for-8 from three point range. But then the second half happened. After halftime, Carolina went on an 11-3 run to grab a 44-41 lead. All 11 of those points were scored by the senior trio, who shot a combined 10-for-15 (4-for-6 from deep) in the second half. After the 11-3 run, Iona scored the next two points before the Heels reeled off a backbreaking 19-4 run to essentially put the game out of reach.
  • It was another balanced scoring night for the Tar Heels, with five Tar Heels in double figures and Kenny Williams chipping in eight.
  • Speaking of Kenny Williams, keep an eye on his right knee. He checked out of the game with just a couple minutes remaining and had the training staff check him out.

  • The second round will be an interesting match-up against Washington, whose head coach, Mike Hopkins, was a long-time Syracuse assistant and runs Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense. It’s worth noting that since Syracuse came to the ACC, the Tar Heels are 8-1 against the Orange (the only loss coming in the teams’ first ACC match-up). In those games, the Tar Heels have averaged 20 assists per game and assisted on 69.2 percent of made field goals. In the three most recent meetings, those numbers jump to 21.3 assists per game, while assisting on an absurd 81.0 percent of made field goals.

Roy Williams, Nassir Little, Cameron Johnson postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Washington on Sunday, March 24. Tip is approximately 2:40ET (following Iowa/Tennessee) on CBS.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Duke

Quick Hitters from North Carolina‘s 90-83 win over Duke:

  1. I wrote this down with about four minutes left in the game: “Win or lose, these two regular season games between North Carolina and Duke have been incredible.” I stand by it. Even though the final margins were eight and seven, both games were played at such a high level. Tonight’s game had 18 (EIGHTEEN!) lead changes in the first half.
  2. Love the senior night tradition of starting the seniors, even the walk-ons. This year was particularly fun because there are exactly five seniors who make up a sensible line-up – Nate BrittStilman WhiteKanler CokerIsaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks.
  3. Heels finish the year undefeated at home – 16-0.
  4. I did not like hearing the crowd chanting “overrated” at Harry Giles. The poor kid has struggled with knee injuries and surgeries. Not classy. Sorry, Duke fans.
  5. You might recall that the Tar Heels scored just 43 points Monday night against Virginia, a Roy Williams-era low. When did they hit 43 in this game? With 2:55 left in the first half. In fact, it was a huge basket of a pretty cut by Brandon Robinson to put Carolina back in the lead.
  6. There are many things to point to as the “main factor” in this game. One of them was Isaiah Hicks, who missed the first Duke game with an injury, and has not played well of late. Can’t overstate how huge it was to have him back on the floor this time. On Hicks’ senior night, he scored 21 points, had nine rebounds, shot 7-8 from the free throw line, and, most importantly, only had two fouls. He picked up both fouls in the first half but then did a fantastic job in the second half of moving his feet and not fouling. He needs to learn, as Jay Bilas said tonight, that “you can get a basket back, but you can’t get a foul back.” Also, let’s just never talk about that missed dunk. Okay? Okay, great.
  7. Congrats also to Isaiah Hicks for becoming the fourth Tar Heel this year to reach 1,000 points for his career. Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry also hit that mark this year.
  8. As well as Hicks played, Joel Berry is the MVP of this game. 28 points on 5-5 from deep. Several huge shots down the stretch. His performance, particularly in the first half, was very reminiscent of the National Championship.
  9. As hot as Berry was, Justin Jackson really struggled with his shot in this game. He started off 0-6 from deep before getting his seventh to fall. However, following that made three-pointer he had several nice assists and finished with four assists and no turnovers.
  10. As good a year as Jackson has had, I’ve got to give the Conference Player of the Year to Luke Kennard. He matched Joel Berry’s 28 points and hit tough shot after tough shot, often with really good defense in his face. In a year of inconsistency for Duke, Kennard has brought consistency and is the most indispensible player on that team.
  11. The Tar Heels were much better at running Duke off the three-point line tonight than in the first game. The Blue Devils had 13 made threes in the first game and seven tonight. That’s a big deal.
  12. Another key in this game was the free throw line. The numbers heavily favored Duke for most of the game, and indeed they outscored Carolina 28-16 from the line. However, after starting off 25-28 from the free throw line, the Blue Devils shot 3-7 after the under 4:00 media timeout.

A Tale of Two Halves: Joel Berry’s Free Throw Shooting

The free throw line is the loneliest and most pressure-filled place on a basketball court. Some basketball players thrive on this moment. Others? Weeeeeelllll, not so much.

Two players in NBA history have shot over 90% for their careers (Steve Nash, 90.4% and Mark Price, 90.4%). Stephen Curry (90.4%), though still active, shares the same distinction. Coming in just behind these three is Rick Barry who famously shot his free throws underhanded (and technically rounds up to 90% free throw shooting himself).

On the other side of the coin are the “not-so-much-ers”. We all know about the “Hack-a-Shaq” tactic of fouling an opponent even when he doesn’t have the ball. Why? Because he’s so awful at shooting free throws that the percentages say you are better off giving that player two free shots from 15 feet rather than letting the opposing team run their offense. It’s become so rampant that the NBA has been forced to employ rules discouraging the use of this tactic. As you would imagine, this strategy is so named because teams started doing this to Shaquille O’Neal. While Shaq is a poor free throw shooter, and believe me, he is bad, the Big Aristotle actually more than half of his free throws (52.7%) for his career.

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Believe it or not, there are actually several NBA players with worse free throw shooting percentages than Shaq. One of the most famous players of all time – Wilt Chamberlain – shot just 51.1% from the charity stripe. Several NBA players have shot under 50% – Chris Dudley (45.8%), DeAndre Jordan (42.1%), and Ben Wallace (41.4%).

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Finally, coming in under 40% free throw shooting is Andre Drummond at 38%.

Wikimedia.org

When it comes to the best free throw shooters in North Carolina basketball history, Shammond Williams leads the way at 84.9% (292-344). As recently as last year, it looked as though that Williams’ career record would fall. Entering his senior year, Marcus Paige had actually eclipsed Williams in career free throw percentage at 86.5% (275-318). Paige, as you might recall, had an “off year” (by his standards) in the 2015-16 season, shooting “just” 77.4% (72-93). When all was said and done, Paige wound up fifth on the all-time list for UNC at 84.4% (347-411), behind Williams, Kim Huband, Marvin Williams, and Danny Green.

Shammond Williams also holds the single-season record for free throw percentage at 91.1% (133-146) in 1997-98; the only Tar Heel to shoot above 90% for an entire season. Marcus Paige holds two of the top nine single season free throw percentage marks. He hit 87.7% (128-146) in 2013-14 (third place) and 86.5% (96-111) in 2014-15 (ninth place).

This brings us to Joel Berry. Berry did not begin his Tar Heel career as a candidate to be one of the best free throw shooters in North Carolina history. During his freshman year, Berry shot 75.7% (28-37). Things changed, though, in his sophomore year when Berry shot 86.7% (91-105), which is the eighth best single-season mark in Tar Heel history. This incredible sophomore year allowed Berry to begin his junior year at 83.8% (119-142) for his career, which is seventh on the all-time list.

Joel Berry entered his junior year with great possibilities of continuing to move up the career free throw percentage list as well as having one of the best single seasons of free throw shooting in UNC history. Right out of the gate, that’s exactly what Berry did. Oddly though, Joel Berry’s free throw shooting in 2016-17 has been a tale of two halves.

Let’s use the natural dividing of non-conference schedule and conference schedule to create those two halves.

First, the good. In non-conference, Berry hit 39 of 42 free throws over the course of 11.5 games (he missed most of the second half against Radford after suffering an ankle injury and the subsequent games against Davidson and Tennesee). That’s a 92.9% clip during roughly the first third of the season. That free throw percentage would give Berry the best single season number in Carolina history; beating Shammond Williams’ 91.1% mark for a single season by almost two percentage points. This hot start also propelled Berry to 85.9% for his career, a full percentage point above Williams’ career record.

As the conference part of the schedule began, everything changed. Let’s call this part the “not-so-good”. The Tar Heels have played 17 conference games (and have one more to go against some team from eight miles down the road). In those games, Joel Berry has shot 35-47 from the free throw line, which is 74.5%; a drop of 18.4 percentage points from the non-conference portion of the schedule. This is a respectable number, but not an “all-time-best-in-program-history” type of number. The worrisome part is that things have continued to get worse. Over the last 11 games, Berry has shot just 68.8% (22-32) from the line. Remember, this is statistically one of the greatest free throw shooters in Carolina history.

Here’s a telling way to look at things. In the non-conference schedule, Berry shot free throws in nine of the 11.5 games he played in. In those nine games, he hit every free throw he took seven times. By contrast, Berry has shot free throws in 11 of the 17 conference games. Of those 11 games, he’s made every free throw he’s taken just twice.

It’s also troubling to notice the discrepancy in the number of free throws Joel Berry has attempted when comparing the non-conference and conference. In his 11.5 non-conference games, Berry shot 42 free throws. In the 17 conference games, he’s shot 47, just five more. That means that in non-conference games, Berry 3.65 free throws a game, which dropped to 2.76 per game during the conference schedule. In the non-conference schedule, there were three games when Berry didn’t shoot any free throws. In conference, there have been six such games.

It’s hard to say exactly what is causing the drop in Joel Berry’s free throw percentage. Perhaps it’s the fatigue of playing point guard for Roy Williams over the course of a grueling season. Perhaps it’s a problem of shot mechanics. Perhaps Berry is in his own head. Perhaps the hot start was an anomaly. Perhaps it’s a lack of focus.

Whatever the reason, while Justin Jackson has been the most consistent scorer this year for North Carolina, Joel Berry is the heart and engine of the team. In order for this year’s version of the Tar Heels to reach, and possibly exceed, what the 2015-16 team achieved, Berry will have to continue to be that driving force as the regular season gives way to postseason tournaments. And it wouldn’t hurt if he hit a couple more free throws along the way.

Quick Hitters – UNC @ Virginia

Quick Hitters from UNC Basketball’s 53-43 road loss to Virginia on Monday night.

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Joel Berry gets about as open a look as you’ll get against Virginia. Unfortunately, there were not enough of these opportunities as the Cavaliers slowed down the Tar Heels, 53-43. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr.
  1. Win or lose (lose, by the way), this game was a tough proposition. Back-to-back road games tipping 55 hours apart is extremely difficult. Add to this that Virginia has been struggling of late and was desperate for a big win.
  2. My hope was that I could say, “Hey, here’s one nice take-away: Isaiah Hicks became 76th Tar Heel to score 1,000 career points.” Nope. Things were so bad that Hicks, who needed just three points to make it to 1,000, scored how many? You guessed it. Two.
  3. This game was doomed from the beginning. Carolina’s first shot was a Justin Jackson air ball from three. For just the third time all year Jackson droyidn’t score in double-digits.
  4. Remember being worried about being outworked and outmuscled by Louisville last week? That happened tonight against Virginia. Prime example? 12 (TWELVE!) first half turnovers for Carolina. If you want to win on the road, you have to be stronger with the ball. A positive sign was that the Heels had only two more turnovers in the second half.
  5. Another sign of a lack of competing showed up in the rebounding numbers. Sure UNC won the overall rebounding battle 38-35. But this is a team that is leading the nation in rebounding margin by a large berth. This is a team that is winning in large part due to their ability to overwhelm their opponents on the glass. For reference, when these teams played nine days ago, Carolina owned the boards, 44-26.
  6. Here’s what’s even more befuddling about the rebounding. Virginia elected to start a small line-up that hadn’t started together all season. The Tar Heels could not take advantage of this glaring mismatch.
  7. In the first meeting, Virginia shot 2-20 from three. Tonight they hit their second three just six-and-a-half minutes in, and the third ninety seconds later. For the game the Cavs were 10-24 from deep. This is what Roy was saying after the first game about wide-open shots just not falling. Well, tonight they did and it really hurt Carolina’s ability to win.
  8. For Roy Williams run-and-gun fans, playing Virginia is painful. It’s similar to playing Georgia Tech in football. You must stay disciplined for 25+ seconds on nearly every possession on both sides of the ball. Virginia didn’t score until almost four minutes into the game, but they didn’t care. They just kept plugging away and out-competing the Heels.
  9. While Syracuse’s 2-3 zone tricks you into shooting lots of mid-range jumpers and threes, Virginia’s defense forces you to do the same.
  10. Call me a whiner (I’m a big boy, I can take it), but the officiating was rough in this game. Virginia’s defense is stellar, but because of the reputation they get away with a lot that other teams would be called for.
  11. Another missed free throw for Joel Berry. I need to study up on the decline of Berry’s free throw shooting this year and write an article about it. It really is hard to believe the difference from early in the season.
  12. Well, it never fails, unless something crazy happens with Louisville, Florida State, and Notre Dame this week, Carolina will be playing Duke to earn the outright regular season championship. Just to be clear, Duke cannot win the regular season title; they can only stop Carolina from doing so. Louisville and Notre Dame play this week, so it cannot be a four-way tie. However, we are looking at a possible three-way tie for the regular season ACC championship.

 

Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Louisville

Quick Hitters from Wednesday night’s 74-63 home win over Louisville.

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Joel Berry shoots a three over the outstretched hand of Louisville’s Anah Mahmoud in UNC’s 74-63 win over Louisville on February 23, 2017. Photo Credit: Jeffrey A. Camarati
  1. I cannot stress enough what a huge win this was, for two reasons. First, with Duke losing to Syracuse earlier in the night, this win over Louisville gave the Tar Heels a two game lead in the ACC with three tough games remaining. It by no means guarantees a conference regular season title, but it sure is nice to have some breathing room. Second, Carolina has struggled with Louisville’s defense and athleticism in the two years they’ve been in the ACC.
  2. Nearly three minutes before Tar Heels scored to start the game. Carolina opened the game shooting 2-15 with 4 turnovers in the first 6 minutes.
  3. Stilman White played some meaningful minutes in the first half when Coach Williams put in five brand new players. He even hit a mid-range jumper that put a jolt in the Smith Center crowd.
  4. We’ve been seeing this all season, but let’s just make sure we say it: Justin Jackson and Joel Berry take (and make) some really deep threes.
  5. After starting off the season looking like he would set Carolina’s career and single season records for free throw percentage, Joel Berry has really “struggled” (a relative term) in conference play. He missed 2 more free throws last night. Weird.
  6. This was the second game in a row where an opponent missed an inordinate number of shots in a certain aspect of the game. This time it was both free throws and three-pointers. Louisville’s first made free throw came with 7:41 left in the game. For the game Louisville shot 4-13 while Carolina shot 21-29 on free throws. The final three-point discrepancy was not as substantial, but Louisville didn’t hit their first three until early in the second half.
  7. This was, unfortunately, a game marked by Isaiah Hicks foul issues. For the Tar Heels to accomplish everything they want to this year, Hicks has to stay out of foul trouble, and on the court.
  8. Carolina missed opportunities on the offensive glass when tips didn’t fall. That said, Louisville is the one team that can really stay with Carolina on the glass and Heels doubled up the Cardinals, 16-8, on the offensive glass.
  9. Another 20+ scoring night for Justin Jackson, in another huge game. Look out folks, this man just might bring home ACC Player of the Year.
  10. A little too tense down the closing minutes. The Tar Heels were up 17 with just under four minutes, but took their foot off the gas too early, which allowed Louisville to cut the lead to 8. However Nate Britt then hit two free throws to push the lead back to 10 and essentially ice the game.

 

 

 

Quick Hitters – NC State, part 2

Quick Hitters from Wednesday night’s 97-73 road win over NC State.

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Nate Britt goes in for a lay-up during UNC’s 97-73 victory over NC State in Raleigh on 2/15/17. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr. / @tarheel_photo
  1. Congrats to Joel Berry for becoming the third Tar Heel this year (along with Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks), and 75th ever, to score 1000 career points. With his 18 points tonight he has 1013 for his career, putting him in 73rd. place. Isaiah Hicks will join soon as the fourth this season. He needs 21 more points.
  2. I can just hear the classic Queen lyrics – “Another one bites the dust”. We welcomed Isaiah Hicks back to the lineup tonight, but Kenny Williams suffered a right knee injury yesterday at practice and was in street clothes. Apparently he will have surgery next Tuesday. Losing the top perimeter defender hurts an already struggling defense and takes away the Heels’ scrappiest player.
  3. It took til game 27, but we finally saw the starting line-up that we thought we would see all season long: Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks
  4. I said all week that this game would be much closer than the 51-point blowout earlier this season, and it certainly was, but uhhhh, yeah. A 24-point ACC road win? Doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
  5. NC State started a small lineup, which allowed Isaiah Hicks to get an easy bucket over Maverick Rowan to start the game. This was a sign of things to come. Carolina led in rebounds 41-25, Carolina had more OFFENSIVE rebounds (18) than State had DEFENSIVE rebounds (16), and Carolina led points in the point 60-22. Don’t get your eyes checked. You read it right: 60-22.
  6. I think Isaiah Hicks saved up all the fouls he’s not been committing, and poured them into the little time he spent on the court in this game (seven minutes). He picked up three first half fouls and his fourth early in the second half. While Isaiah his been doing a much better job lately staying out of foul trouble, as a senior, he’s got to be smarter. That said, I’m surprised Coach Williams brought Hicks back in the game in the first half even though the Heels had a 17-point lead. Wisely though, Coach kept him out of the rest of the game after the fourth foul. With the tweaked hamstring still on the mend, not need to push it.
  7. I like Luke Maye more and more all the time. Some great put-backs tonight. Runs the floor well. Because of his lack of size, he’s gotta be more active and gritty and that’s exactly what he does. Maye had a career high in points (13).
  8. Would really like to see Joel Berry start driving the ball more, rather than settling for threes. The Secondary Break had a great write-up on Berry’s up-and-down season: http://www.thesecondarybreak.us/joel-berrys-up-and-down-season/. Berry did have six assists, three steals, and only one turnover in this game, which is a great sign. The test will be Virginia on Saturday.
  9. How many lay-ups did Theo Pinson have in this game? Goodness gracious.
  10. Another balanced scoring night. Five different Heels (Berry, Meeks, Jackson, Maye, and Pinson) scored in double figures.

Quick Hitters – Duke

I know I’m a couple days late in getting this posted. What can I say, it takes awhile to get over a loss to Duke. Anyway, here are Quick Hitters from Thursday night’s 86-78 road loss to Duke.

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The Tar Heels huddle during Carolina’s 86-78 loss to Duke on 2/9/17. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr.
  1. Seriously? Isaiah Hicks out with a strained hamstring? What is it going to take to play a game with a fully healthy roster? The good news is that every game the Heels have played this year with the full roster available, they’ve won by 29.5 points.
  2. That said, Luke Maye did a really nice job sliding into Isaiah Hicks’ starting role. He played controlled and confidently, scored eight points on 4-8 shooting, had two assists, and zero turnovers. The one glaring weakness – only two rebounds in a game the Tar Heels lost the rebounding battle (31-30) for only the third time this year.
  3. Great to see Theo Pinson back. It sure doesn’t take long for him to fill the stat sheet. First defensive possession: grabbed the rebound and drew an over-the-back foul on Amile Jefferson. First offensive possession: assist to Nate Britt. Second offensive possession: made mid-range jumper. Third defensive possession: rebound. Third offensive possession: aggressive drive to the basket. Missed lay-up, but corralled two offensive rebounds leading to a Joel Berry floater. Pinson finished with six points, seven rebounds, three assists, zero turnovers, and a block in 19 minutes.
  4. A positive sign: Seventh Woods had his most complete game of the season at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It wasn’t the most points he’s scored (four vs. nine) or the most assists he’s had (four vs. six), but he played under control, with zero turnovers, and had a seemingly better grasp of playing within the offense. On one particular stretch of the first half, over the course of four straight offensive possessions, Woods had a lay-up followed by three assists.
  5. At the end of the first half, the Heels had one of the strangest line-ups on the court you’ll ever see from Roy Williams: Nate Britt, Joel Berry, Brandon Robinson, Theo Pinson, and Justin Jackson. The line-up came because Duke essentially had one possession left and the goal was to stop the three-point barrage.
  6. While Isaiah Hicks’ absence certainly hurt, the biggest problem in this game was three-point defense. The Tar Heels seem to have an aversion to guarding the three or running shooters off the line. Too often, a defender will help off a shooter to stop dribble penetration, resulting in a wide-open kick-out three. For the game, Duke hit more threes (13) than Carolina shot (12), and had a higher percentage (48.1% to 33.3%).
  7. The Heels did a nice job of getting both Amile Jefferson and Grayson Allen into foul trouble. It wasn’t enough to affect the outcome, as Allen delivered blow after blow and Jefferson was a defensive stalwart inside. Hopefully, this trend will continue on the return game to Chapel Hill, knowing that Coach K has a shallow bench.
  8. It gave me perverse joy to see Theo Pinson block Jayson Tatum’s shot a couple possessions after he dunked and postured back down the court.
  9. Despite the loss, Carolina showed great resolve to fight back on the road after going down by eight early in the second half.
  10. A troubling trend: poor free throw shooting again in this game, including Joel Berry missing two (including the front end of a 1-and-1). Both misses were within the final five minutes of game time. As a team, Carolina shot 10-18 (to Duke’s 13-16), which won’t cut it in ACC play.
  11. All-in-all, the Heels played a good game, and had the ability to beat Duke in Cameron without Isaiah Hicks, but the three-point and free throw disparities were ultimately too much to overcome.

 

 

Quick Hitters – Notre Dame

Quick Hitters from Sunday afternoon’s 83-76 home-ish win over Notre Dame. Every win down the stretch, in which the Heels face a crazy gauntlet of opponents, is big. After a crazy week of college basketball, this win solidified the Heels alone in first atop the ACC at 9-2, with a whole slew of teams bunched together right behind them.

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Tony Bradley was a spark off the bench for UNC in the 83-76 win over Notre Dame on Super Bowl Sunday. He had 12 points on 5-7 shooting, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 turnovers, and 3 blocks. Photo Credit: Jeffrey A. Camarati

First, a note. I didn’t have the opportunity to post Quick Hitters after the Pittsburgh game, but wanted to make sure to say congrats to Kennedy Meeks for becoming just the 11th player in UNC history for amassing 900 career rebounds.

  1. I don’t like to criticize the refs, so I won’t.
  2. This was the second time this season the Heels have had a game delayed. Last time was the 51-point NC State blow out. This one was indeed closer, but the Heels are 2-0 in delayed games.
  3. It was really nice to see a team come out and play man-to-man after a streak of majority zone defenses. Notre Dame did, however, sprinkle in 2-3 zone on several inbounds plays and other half-court possessions throughout the game.
  4. After several games of lackadaisical defense, this game featured a more aggressive and locked-in defense effort from the Tar Heels. Most notably, the there was an apparent renewed effort to stop dribble penetration.
  5. Kennedy Meeks had four rebounds before the first media timeout and finished the game with 8. He would have had more, were it not for second half foul trouble, including fouling out with 5:14 remaining in the game.
  6. Poor FT shooting – 4-10 to start the game. Including 0-2 from Justin Jackson, 1-2 from Tony Bradley, and 3-6 from Kennedy Meeks. Joel Berry, the potential all-time leader at UNC for FT%, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 6:48 left in the game. You can’t do that against the #2 team in the nation in FT percentage. For the game, Carolina shot 17-28 (60.7%) and Notre Dame was 17-20 (85%).
  7. This was another game in which the Heels obliterated their opponents on the boards. The margin in this game was 19 (44-25). In fact, Carolina almost had more offensive rebounds (17) than Notre Dame did defensive rebounds (18). Perhaps the best stat of the day is that all 10 players that saw time on the court day had at least one rebound.
  8. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry a combined 1-9 from three in the first half. Started 0-8 before Jackson connected.
  9. While Berry and Jackson were struggling, it was Kenny Williams who picked up the slack. He shot 3-4 from deep and had 11 total points. In fact, it was Williams (as per usual) who was the spark plug in this game. He had 3 assists and zero turnovers. Perhaps his best play of the day however, came with 10:35 remaining in the game. UNC was up 65-53 and Notre Dame had gained a good deal of momentum. Williams stepped into the lane and drew a charge from Steve Vasturia.
  10. Though Joel Berry and Nate Britt didn’t score in the first half, they had 8 assists combined.
  11. Great scoring balance. 6 different Heels scored in double figures (Jackson – 16, Hicks – 14, Berry and Bradley – 12, Meeks and Williams – 11) in a game where the team had 83.
  12. Theo Pinson missed his 3rd game in a row, however he was out on the court before the game going through drills and looked to be in good form. This is a (hopefully) good sign for him suiting up on Thursday night against Duke. I thought his absence today might be the Tar Heels’ undoing because of Notre Dame’s desire to spread the floor and drive, which would necessitate a good deal of small ball.
  13. Though this version of the Tar Heels are not known for their shot-blocking prowess, the team had 6 (including 3 from Tony Bradley) today.