North Carolina didn’t have Theo Pinson on Saturday during its 77-62 loss at Miami, and the Tar Heels clearly missed him. They missed his oft-cited energy, his presence – they missed the little things he often does so well.
UNC didn’t lose because of Pinson’s absence – to think otherwise would be “an excuse,” coach Roy Williams said – and who knows how much better the Tar Heels might have been had Pinson played. That question is impossible to answer.
“It was still North Carolina playing,” Williams said, “and we had some good players out there and supposedly a good coach that didn’t do a very good job.”
Now the question is how much longer the Tar Heels will be without Pinson. Is his return a matter of games? Or might he have played for the final time this season? The latter scenario is in play, given Pinson’s injury history and the uncertainty surrounding his status.
Midway through the first half of UNC’s victory against Virginia Tech on Thursday, Pinson left the game after enduring an ankle injury. Williams said later that Pinson “rolled” his right ankle. Pinson didn’t return and came back to the bench only in the final minute, out of uniform.
He traveled with the Tar Heels to Miami on Saturday, but watched the game from the bench while wearing a suit and a protective boot over his right foot. What makes Pinson’s situation especially complicated is his unfortunate history with foot injuries.
Whatever happened with his ankle last Thursday could have had a ripple effect on other areas of his foot. Before the season, Pinson broke the fifth metatarsal in that same foot and the injury forced him to miss UNC’s first 16 games.
Before returning from that broken bone in his right foot, Pinson said he was fully recovered, pain free and without fear of re-injury. But against Virginia Tech, Pinson’s sixth game of the season, he fell to the court after landing awkwardly on his right foot. He stayed in the game, briefly, before coming out.
Since then, there has been little insight into Pinson’s prognosis and status. And there’s a reason for that: Even mild foot injuries can be complicated, and they can be especially so to someone with Pinson’s history. He has also twice broken the fifth metatarsal in his left foot.
Williams on Saturday said he hoped to have clarity about Pinson’s status “in the next few days.” In the meantime, though, Pinson is still being evaluated, and Pinson and the professionals helping him are still determining his best course.
“Theo’s extremely strong,” said Justin Jackson, the junior forward who arrived at UNC in the same class as Pinson. “Right now, we don’t know what it is. We still have hope that he’ll be back soon. But I think that they’re looking into it more.”
Jackson said Pinson was “still the loudest guy on the bench” during that loss against Miami. Now all the Tar Heels can do is wait, and hope Pinson is soon able to bring some of that noise onto the court.