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Why UNC’s Joel Berry sat out for so long in semifinal game against Duke

It was the question that a lot of North Carolina fans wondered about both during and after North Carolina’s 93-83 defeat against Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals: Why did Joel Berry, the junior point guard, sit out so long after committing his fourth foul?

UNC coach Roy Williams provided an answer on Tuesday during his pre-NCAA tournament press conference. Said Williams: “He didn’t make me feel like his head was into it.”

Berry’s fourth foul was perhaps the defining moment – from the UNC side, at least – of the Tar Heels’ defeat. When he left with about 15 minutes remaining, UNC led by eight, and that lead quickly grew to 13 points, even in his absence.

From there, though, the Blue Devils outscored UNC 29-9 during the next eight minutes while Berry sat on the bench. Williams said that Berry “was so ticked off” while he sat there, fuming, after committing his fourth foul.

Berry, after all, had just assured Williams that he’d play smarter and avoid committing his fourth foul. According to Williams, Berry told him, “I’m good,” after he’d committed his third earlier in the half.

“Well, he wasn’t good,” Williams said. “All right, it didn’t take very dadgum long to get the fourth one.”

Williams said he told his staff that he’d put Berry back into the game if Duke’s lead ever grew beyond three points, making it a two-possession game. By the time Berry could re-enter, though, Duke led 77-70 with about five minutes to play.

Berry by then had been sitting out for 10 minutes. At least he’d had an opportunity to calm himself.

Berry hasn’t often been in foul trouble this season. When he has, UNC has had difficulty overcoming it. The Tar Heels are 1-3 when Berry finishes with at least four fouls – and he fouled out of the Tar Heels’ loss against Kentucky in Las Vegas in December.

Berry acknowledged on Tuesday that his competitiveness affected his judgment against Duke.

“There are plays that I can be more aggressive on and there are plays that I just need to let go and we can make up for it,” he said. “... Me and coach talked about it and so I just think I’ve got to realize in the flow of the game what plays to be more aggressive on and what plays to just sit back and just let it happen.”

Berry was especially emotional after committing his fourth foul against Duke, Williams said, “because he didn’t think any of the fouls were right.”

“And that’s the bottom line,” Williams said. “He’s a fiery guy. … He didn’t like any of the foul calls. I said, they’re fouls. You know how I know they’re fouls? Because you’re sitting over here.

“And I don’t have to agree with them either, but the referee called them.”

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter

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