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UNC vs Miami Players of the Game: The Seniors

On Senior Night in the Dean Dome, both seniors shined throughout as their team fell short

NCAA Basketball: Miami at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t for a National Championship this time, but Joel Berry and Theo Pinson must have been feeling some serious déjà vu against Miami, as the senior point guard hit an improbable three-pointer with 4 seconds left, giving the opponents just enough time to get off a prayer that went in and killed a furious comeback. It was no fault of theirs, however, as both of them played brilliantly and turned in among their best performances as Tar Heels: Berry taking over the game in the last 5 minutes to finish with 31 points, 3 assists, and 3 steals, and Pinson generally running the show with 12 points, a career-high 11 assists, and just 3 turnovers.

Berry’s game was vintage Joel Berry. He finished creatively and well at the rim, he drew fouls, he shot extraordinarily well from beyond the arc (5/8), and, when the going got tough, as he so often has throughout his career and especially this year, he got going, bringing UNC back to the brink every time Miami seemed to pull away (which, to their credit, they did a lot during the second half), including, of course, a last, off-balance three-pointer to tie the game in the final seconds. The only thing off about him, and it was unfortunately huge, was his free throw shooting. Berry had been 90% on the year, and yet missed 3 out of his 7 free throws. He made just 1 out of 3 after being fouled on an outside jumper in the first half, which seemed to be a minor inflection point in the game’s momentum as well as an encapsulation of the general quality of play that UNC offered in the middle 30 minutes. Berry just about made up for it in every other facet of his game, but that doesn’t mean those misses didn’t hurt.

Pinson, on the other hand, had a more nontraditional game by his standards. He had been distributing the ball at an extraordinary rate recently, but 11 assists was high even for him. The same goes for his 2/4 performance on three-pointers, his first game with multiple three-pointers this season. He’d been making open looks recently, an improvement from before, but more than one in a game was dang near unprecedented for him. Who could’ve predicted that Pinson would be a good shooter with more volume? (Oh yeah. I did.) Indeed, Pinson played much better away from the basket than he did close to it, as he was unable to finish on several drives to the basket and the only shot he made other than his three-pointers was a midrange jump shot. Again, this is not normal for him. Neither is getting just two rebounds, though both of these are likely functions of facing wings who are just as, if not more so, long and athletic as he is, a rarity for Pinson. He was able to escape the free throw bug that bit Berry and Cam Johnson last night, hitting all four of his shots, but, like Berry, there was one bad aspect to his game that stuck out like a sore thumb: help defense. As noted several times on the broadcast, Pinson’s help too often came in the form of committing early to drawing a charge, allowing driving Miami players to blow by him while experiencing little resistance. He was far from alone in allowing easy drives to the basket, but his brand of bad defense was particularly notable.

Despite those flaws in this game and the eventual loss, though, the two were as brilliant as they have been their whole careers, and Chapel Hill will miss them dearly. But even if they’re done playing in Chapel Hill proper, as both noted in their farewell speeches, the season is not over, and hopefully they’ll give us plenty more to write about over the next month and change. Farewell, seniors, you’ve given us more than we could’ve ever asked for.