A year later, one shot still driving Tar Heels


North Carolina guard Joel Berry was with his team in Times Square in New York last week during the ACC Tournament when they saw a familiar image up on a giant video board.

Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono dribbles upcourt and shovel passes to teammate Kris Jenkins, who lifts up outside the 3-point arc with the final seconds of the 2016 national championship game ticking down. Over the outstretched left hand of North Carolina forward Isaiah Hicks, Jenkins releases an arcing shot that dives into the basket, banging in off the back rim as time expires. Confetti and streamers fill the air in Houston’s NRG Stadium. The Tar Heels walk off the court in disbelief, 77-74 losers in a most memorable championship.

“You can’t go anywhere without seeing that shot,” said Berry, who defended Arcidiacono up the court. “But I’m glad I see it because it motivates me, and I know it motivates my team as well.”

A play that likely will follow them long after their playing careers end, Villanova’s championship-winning shot has motivated the Tar Heels to write a new ending to their pursuit of this year’s national title. North Carolina, the top seed in the South region, begins NCAA Tournament play against Texas Southern on Friday in Greenville, S.C.

“It’s given us motivation, that’s for sure,” said ACC player of the year Justin Jackson, who was one of three Tar Heels on the floor for that shot who still are with the team. “We want to get back to that point and change the outcome. And we want to get back to that because we had so much fun during that run. We want to get back to that feeling and the way that we played, and if we can do that, that’s something big for us.”

North Carolina is a fierce machine, rated fourth nationally in offensive efficiency (KenPom), 25th in defensive efficiency and third overall. The Tar Heels won the ACC regular-season title at 14-4, an assembly of size, speed and playmaking ability.

“It just puts a fire up under me when I go out on the court,” Berry said. “It just gives me this extra little boost.”

The specter of Jenkins’ shot wasn’t enough to drive North Carolina to the ACC title. The Tar Heels gave away a 13-point second-half lead to Duke and lost 93-83 in a semifinal matchup. It revealed again that they’re not invincible. But coach Roy Williams was not distraught. After losing to Duke, Williams said he told the team that of his teams’ eight Final Four trips, six of them lost in the semifinals of their conference tournaments.

“There’s still a lot to play for,” Williams said. “I’m not trying to make anybody mad. Our final goal was not to win the ACC Tournament. Our final goal was to play on the last Monday night and win the game there.”

A particular priority for Williams is defending without fouling. In North Carolina’s seven losses, Tar Heels’ opponents took 6.6 more free throws per game, including an advantage of 19 free throws in Georgia Tech’s win on New Year’s Eve. Duke had the same margin in its ACC Tournament win.

“We just understand that, defensively, we have to be better,” forward Theo Pinson said.

Chances are, the Tar Heels haven’t seen Jenkins’ shot for the last time, particularly if they care to watch the NCAA Tournament this month.

“It’s driven me a lot,” Berry said. “We can blame (last year’s loss) on the shot and say that’s motivation, but just, honestly, I want to be able to reach the potential that this team can get to, and I know our sky is the limit, and we can go as far as we want to take us. If we continue to be better on the defensive end and just realize the little mistakes that we’re making, I think we’ll be good. But every day, that shot motivates me all the time.”

The Tar Heels are aware of it even when they don’t see it. A highlight montage that was played before home games this season included guard Marcus Paige’s double-pumping 3-pointer that tied the score at 74-74 with 4.7 seconds to play, a clutch basket that ultimately became the prelude to Jenkins’ game-winner.

Watching the Paige shot, “we still understand what happened right after that,” Pinson said last week at the ACC Tournament. “I know today, I was thinking like, I want to change that. We want to change that. Look, Marcus’ shot was incredible. We’re not going to try to downgrade it, but we have to have a picture up there where we’re holding a trophy.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

5 things to know about the Falcons on Thursday
5 things to know about the Falcons on Thursday

Here are five things to know about the Falcons, who practice at 12:20 p.m., on Thursday: 1. Jones cracks Top 10. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones’ jersey has soared into the Top 10 on DICK’S Sporting Goods Jersey Report, ranking ninth among all NFL players in jersey sales. 2. Sarkisian and Ryan bonding well. Falcons offensive coordinator...
50 rally to support Colin Kaepernick in Atlanta
50 rally to support Colin Kaepernick in Atlanta

Nearly 50 people gathered Wednesday afternoon near Mercedes-Benz Stadium at a rally to support spurned NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his right to free speech while also bringing attention to the social injustices for which he stood up – or knelt down – last year during the playing of the national anthem. Georgia State senator Vincent...
WATCH: Shea Patterson featured in fun video that reminds Ole Miss fans of SEC’s clear bag policy

Way to be good sports, Shea Patterson and Jordan Ta’amu. On Wednesday, Ole Miss released a cool instructional clip featuring the Rebels quarterbacks to remind fans of the SEC’s clear bag policy that goes into effect for all football games this season. You can read details about the policy and a statement from...
Johnson blows lead in 8th inning, Braves lose series to Mariners
Johnson blows lead in 8th inning, Braves lose series to Mariners

The Braves twice came back from one-run deficits and took a lead in the seventh inning, but manager Brian Snitker hasn’t given up using deposed closer Jim Johnson in the late innings of close games, and he and the Braves paid a price for that Wednesday against the Mariners. Johnson faced four batters without recording an out in the eighth inning...
WATCH: Aaron Murray looking for Georgia QB Jacob Eason to ‘take the next step’

Georgia has made a habit in recent years of having talented quarterbacks, and few were as successful as Aaron Murray or as hyped up as Jacob Eason. Murray, who is now an analyst for CBS Sports, says he’s looking for Eason to take the next step in his development as a sophomore. Murray also said he thinks Eason could be as good as...
More Stories