Already it had started to become forgotten. In the aftermath of North Carolina’s 96-83 victory against Florida State on Saturday, a lot of the talk was about that Theo Pinson dunk and about how coach Roy Williams went small – as small as he’s ever gone, he said later.
But what about Joel Berry? What about the time he penetrated the Seminoles defense and beat the shot clock when, somehow, he released a half-layup, half-jump shot over the 6-foot-10 Jonathan Isaac? The Florida State freshman stood in prime position to send Berry’s attempt somewhere else.
Instead the shot went in with a little less than four minutes remaining. It gave UNC, which plays against Syracuse on Monday night at the Smith Center, an eight-point lead – one that only grew from there. And yet the moment faded in the moments after. Asked about it, Williams sort of shrugged.
“It was big,” he said, almost begrudgingly, of what Berry had done. “I mean, he had missed two in a row. I told him, ‘Make a dadgum layup’ That’s real coaching: Make a dadgum layup. That’s what I told him.”
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Berry on that play scored the final two of his 26 points. It was the sort of shot he’s developing a reputation for making – an important one, a debilitating one, for the Seminoles. A week and a half earlier, Berry made shots with similar consequences in the second half of an overtime victory at Clemson.
He scored 31 points in that game, more than he’s ever scored in any college game, and he willed the Tar Heels to victory. It was the same kind of thing with less than four minutes to play at the Smith Center on Saturday, when he jumped to attempt something that looked improbable, and landed with another addition to his growing reel of clutch plays.
Pinson’s dunk, a couple of minutes earlier, is what people will remember. They’ll remember the small lineups UNC used on Saturday to counter the Seminoles’ considerable size. By tip-off on Monday against Syracuse, Berry’s final points on Saturday will be but a fading memory, though maybe not to him.
To him it could be proof. What he did against Isaac, Berry had done before – and now there’s evidence he can do it again.
“I used to do that a lot in high school,” he said. “And I kind of got away from it once I got here. But I just tried to get into his body, and I wanted the refs to call a foul, because I felt like they say if you bring your arms down and hit the guy, that’s usually a foul.”
A foul didn’t come, though. What came, Berry said, was a “big-time shot.”
Isaac had about a 7-inch advantage on the play. Berry had some strategy.
He drove in undeterred by the fear of a blocked shot. Berry jumped and tried to initiate contact.
“When you get into somebody’s body, it eliminates all the shot-blocking,” he said. “Because you get the chance to bounce off of them, and they’re steady going back, and you’re just – you’re just fading. So I think that’s why I like to get into the big guy’s body, because it eliminates the shot-blocking.”
Berry released his attempt over Isaac. It dropped off the backboard, touched the rim and fell in.
Syracuse at UNC
When: 7 p.m., Monday
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill