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UNC Basketball: Justin Pierce season review

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The grad transfer did not live up to expectations this season.

North Carolina State v North Carolina Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

In the second game of the season, Justin Pierce showed why he was recruited as a grad transfer to UNC. Against his old Colonial Athletic Association foes, Pierce dropped 18 points against UNCW. He shot 7-12 from the field, including 4-7 from three.

Unfortunately, Pierce hit his high water mark for the season in the second game. Much like fellow grad transfer Christian Keeling, Pierce struggled in his transition to big time college ball.

There were few, if any, that predicted the type of season that Carolina had in 2019-20. The disappointing efforts from this team during many stretches of the season did not help much of anyone’s stat lines. And this was especially true of Pierce.

In the preseason, Pierce was tagged as one of the North Carolina Tar Heels poised for a breakout year. One of the needs heading into the season was replacing Luke Maye’s scoring at the stretch 4 or 3. Pierce did not shoot as much in his final two seasons at William and Mary, but the overall field goal percentage, three-point attempts, and three-point percentage were in the same ballpark as Maye.

Pierce may not have been expected to replace Maye, but additional scoring was need to fill the void. This did not occur.

Below are his season statistics:

Justin Pierce 2019-20 Final Stats

Games Games Started Minutes Played Field Goals Field Goals Attempted Field Goal Percentage Two-Pointers Two-Pointers Attempted Two-Pointer Percentage Three-Pointers Three-Pointers Attempted Three-Pointer Percentage Free Throws Free Throws Attempted Free Throw Percentage Offensive Rebounds Defensive Rebounds Total Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Personal Fouls Points Points Per Game
Games Games Started Minutes Played Field Goals Field Goals Attempted Field Goal Percentage Two-Pointers Two-Pointers Attempted Two-Pointer Percentage Three-Pointers Three-Pointers Attempted Three-Pointer Percentage Free Throws Free Throws Attempted Free Throw Percentage Offensive Rebounds Defensive Rebounds Total Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Personal Fouls Points Points Per Game
32 2 588 62 166 0.373 46 95 0.484 16 71 0.225 19 35 0.543 56 72 128 29 13 9 26 54 159 5

There are plenty of factors to explain the nine-point per game drop off for Pierce between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.

To state the obvious, Pierce went from starting 54 of 59 games in his last two seasons at William and Mary to just two starts with the Tar Heels. It was not that Pierce would be a starter, but he was expected to provide scoring off the bench.

However, he was not able to adequately produce in this reduced role. In his final season at William and Mary, Pierce’s points per minute played average was .434. This season with Carolina, he was at just .27.

Pierce struggled to find his role on the team. Part of this was the transition from mid-major basketball to a Power 5 conference team that consistently plays one of the toughest schedules in the country.

The other was the overall performance by this team. The (statistically) worst Roy Williams team ever did not do Pierce any favors. Pierce often struggled to create offense in isolation and many of his shots seemed rushed.

As with the whole team, the defensive effort was inconsistent or nonexistent. There were many times when fans and armchair coaches did not recognize the team on the court. Imagine how a player trying their best to learn the Williams system would feel.

Now imagine Pierce slotting into the sixth, seventh, or eighth slots on the bench on any team from the past decade. This would certainly be a different story. But that would be the case with many of the offseason analysis.

At the end of the day, Pierce’s performance was symptomatic of a year plagued by injuries, inconsistency, and a failure to finish.