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What to expect for Joel Berry and Theo Pinson’s home finale? The tears to flow

UNC's Berry and Pinson on their last game in the Smith Center

UNC senior guards Joel Berry and Theo Pinson talk about the emotions that will come with playing their final game in the Smith Center on Senior Night against Miami.
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UNC senior guards Joel Berry and Theo Pinson talk about the emotions that will come with playing their final game in the Smith Center on Senior Night against Miami.

There were all laughs and no tears for Theo Pinson and Joel Berry on Monday as they talked about Senior Night.

That ratio will change on Tuesday after Pinson and Berry, roommates for four years and best friends, play their last game at the Smith Center together.

The Tar Heels (22-7, 11-5 ACC) will try to clinch a double-bye in the ACC tournament with a win over Miami (9 p.m., ESPN) and send the remarkable pair out on a winning note.

Pinson, the gregarious 6-6 wing from Greensboro, has never met a microphone he didn’t like. Pinson admitted he was a little nervous for his senior speech after the Miami game. He predicted water works would be in his future.

“It’s going to be way shorter than y’all think,” Pinson said. “If I start crying, I’ll cut it (short).”

Pinson didn’t know if Berry, the fiery 6-0 point guard from Apopka, Fla., and more the serious one of the pair, would cry. He did predict coach Roy Williams would.

“Oh, he’s a baby,” Pinson said of the UNC coach.

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North Carolina’s Theo Pinson (1) gets past Syracuse's Paschal Chukwu (13) for a dunk on February 21, 2018 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. Robert Willett

After everything their recruiting class, which also included Justin Jackson, went through and accomplished, Berry wouldn’t blame Williams for crying a few tears of joy.

Jackson (ranked No. 9 in the country), Pinson (ranked No. 15) and Berry (ranked No. 30), were all McDonald’s All-Americans and they all chose UNC in 2014 despite questions about an academic scandal that had led to a lengthy NCAA investigation into the program.

“We took a chance on this program when things weren’t going good and when people told us we weren’t going to be able to make it to the tournament because we were going to have all these violations against the program,” Berry said.

“Me, Theo and Justin we stuck with it. We didn’t listen to what everybody else was saying.”

As sophomores, the group helped UNC win the ACC title and finish first in the regular season. The Tar Heels reached the Final Four but lost in the championship game at the buzzer to Villanova.

Last year, as juniors, they won the ACC regular-season again, got back to the Final Four and this time won the national title. Berry was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, which means his jersey number will be honored in the Smith Center rafters.

Jackson, the 2017 ACC player of the year, left early for the NBA and was a first-round pick of the Sacramento Kings. Berry and Pinson both went through the draft process but decided to come back for their senior season.

In October, the NCAA investigation finally ended and the Tar Heels did not receive any major penalties.

“We came here and did what we wanted to do and that was make an impact on this program and win a national championship,” Berry said.

“I think that’s why coach will be so emotional just to know he had guys who believed in him. We just stuck with him through the process and everything turned out fine.”

We took a chance on this program when things weren’t going good and when people told us we weren’t going to be able to make it to the tournament because we were going to have all these violations against the program.

UNC guard Joel Berry

After a bumpy 5-5 ACC start this season, UNC has won six straight games and is playing its best basketball. Pinson and Berry are a big reason why.

“We didn’t come back to just come back and play,” Pinson said after the Syracuse win last week. “We came back to win it again. We understand that we have to play at a high level to do that.”

Berry, who missed the first game of the season with a broken bone in his right hand, has been a consistent scorer all season. He ranks second on the team with 17.7 points per game and first in 3-pointers made (74).

Pinson, a free spirit and true character, has stepped up his game during UNC’s winning streak. He has averaged 17.2 points per game over the past four games. For the season, he leads the team with 4.6 assists per game and ranks second in rebounding (6.2 per game).

Williams has never had a player quite like Pinson, a nominal power forward on this team but also the best playmaker. Pinson has made a habit, especially earlier in his career, of interrupting Williams’ press conferences.

Williams finally got him back on Monday but Pinson got the last laugh. Williams walked in the back of the media room at the Smith Center about a minute after Pinson and Berry sat down and started talking.

Williams told Pinson he was turning the tables and finally crashing one of his pressers. But Pinson, without missing a beat, said: “You just wanted this one moment to be taller than us.”

Everyone laughed, no one harder than Williams. The coach knew he had been one-upped and started to walk out.

“You guys enjoy these two because I’ve enjoyed enjoyed the crap out of them,” Williams said.

Time is running out on Berry and Pinson’s senior season, the appreciation for them will endure.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

Miami at No. 9 UNC

When: Tuesday, 9 p.m.

Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill

TV/radio: ESPN, 106.1-WTKK

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