In this piece, we’ll focus on two of the ACC’s best players: Joel Berry and Jaron Blossomgame. Specifically, we’ll look at how Berry got his career-high 31 points, and which Heels were responsible for allowing Blossomgame’s 24.
Berry’s 31 Points
Despite not earning a single trip to the line (trivia question: what’s the Roy Williams-era record for most points by a UNC player without attempting a free throw?), Joel Berry scored his 31 points on an efficient 19 FGAs (12-19 from the field, 7-10 on 3s). For the sake of “brevity” (ha!), we’ll just focus on the 12 made shots (chronologically).
- a top-of-the-key 3 against Clemson’s zone following a Meeks high-post touch and kick-out
- a made layup in transition after pushing hard following a made Clemson field goal (Lawsonian in its nature)
- a primary break 3 from the left corner after Jackson gave up a good 3-point look to get a great one (hat tip: Doris Burke); Britt had the hockey assist here
- after Clemson switched a ball screen (which it did all game, basically), Berry blew by Blossomgame in isolation for a layup with 3 left on the shot clock
- after another switch following a dribble hand-off (this time Donte Grantham was the Clemson big), Berry attacked from the left wing to create a left baseline floater
- a right-corner 3-pointer from a BLOB set (against Clemson’s zone) that was assisted by Britt
- Berry’s penetration (and kick-out to Britt) created his own 3-pointer after a Clemson miscommunication on the recovery; Berry re-located to the left corner after driving and kicking, receiving a return pass from Britt for a clean look
- a made 3 from the top of the key off the dribble (using a Hicks ball screen); this was a huge shot, as Clemson had just completed a 9-0 run to take a 64-60 lead—this dagger cut it back to a 1-point game
- a contested 17-footer off the dribble from the right elbow extended; Berry used a double ball screen from Hicks and Meeks, but was still not able to create a clean mid-range look; these back-to-back Berry buckets (with a defensive stop sandwiched between them) gave the Heels a 65-64 lead
- a made right-wing 3 assisted by Meeks on a skip pass following pick-and-pop action between Britt and Meeks
- a Jackson (now at the 4) high screen again switched Blossomgame on to Berry; this time, Berry was unable to penetrate and handed off to Williams who immediately got it back to him for a deep, contested right-wing 3 from about 25 feet with a couple seconds left on the shot clock; this wasn’t an especially good shot or offensive possession, but great shot-making can bail out bad trips—this hoop gave the Heels a 73-67 lead and, a couple possessions later, Berry’s drive-and-dish to Meeks (again, with only 3 seconds left on the shot clock) put Carolina up by 8
- clearly fatigued down the stretch, this Berry-to-Jackson-to-Berry transition layup (after Berry’s incredible steal on the other end) was his only basket in the game’s final 10 minutes
Before running out of gas a bit, Berry scored 19 points (baskets 5.-11. above) over the span of 14 Carolina possessions (about 7.5 minutes of game action spanning from 14:07 to 6:39). That’s obviously an incredible scoring run that allowed the Heels to extend their lead and ultimately hold off the Clemson comeback attempt.
He hit 3s from all over the court against the Tigers, specifically:
- left corner: 2-2 (4-7 (57.1%) on the season)
- left wing: 0-2 (6-21 (28.6%) on the season)—Jackson’s been a great left-wing shooter, but bad from the right wing; Berry’s been just the opposite
- top of the key: 2-3 (10-20 (50.0%) on the season)
- right wing: 2-2 (11-22 (50.0%) on the season)—he also hit a long 2 from the right wing
- right corner: 1-1 (2-7 (28.6%) on the season)
Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson’s star forward, is scoring 17.8 points per game this season. He does most of his damage inside the arc (59.7% on 144 2-pointers) and by getting to the line (FTA Rate of 43.9). Despite hitting just 16.3% from behind the arc, Blossomgame’s launched 43 3s in 14 games. Tuesday’s game against UNC was typical Blossomgame—8-9 on 2s, 5-8 from the line, and 1-5 from deep. Here’s how he scored his 24 points (from a UNC defensive perspective):
- an iso post-up jump hook over Hicks to open Clemson’s scoring; this was actually really good defense by Hicks to force Blossomgame off the block and to attempt a long, contested hook
- transition dunk after a Jackson live-ball turnover
- a foul (made 1-2 FTs) by Britt on a post move after Clemson capitalized on a mismatch in transition
- a made 3-pointer in the early offense after Maye over-helped in the paint on a rolling big (probably not a terrible decision considering Blossomgame’s woeful 3-point numbers)
- made a tough, contested leaner over Hicks after being isolated on the wing against him
- following a half-court trap by the Heels, Blossomgame grabbed a rebound over a scrambling Britt and drew a foul on the put-back attempt (made both FTs)
- transition dunk after a Meeks live-ball turnover
- beat Hicks on a cut down the middle of the lane to receive a pass from Djitte, who was posted on the left block
- a post-up hoop over Jackson (playing the 4); good wall by Jackson, actually, but Blossomgame easily powered through it to bank one in
- after receiving a screen from Djitte to receive a wing pass, Blossomgame was isolated against Hicks; he beat him off the dribble to draw the foul-prone Heel’s 3rd of the game (non-shooting) less than a minute into the second half
- Hicks didn’t pick up his 4th foul until the 7:06 mark, and Blossomgame (after posting him up on the left block) again did the honors (he’d split the pair of FTs)
- on the Tigers’ first possession of overtime, they posted up Blossomgame on Hicks; with 4 fouls, Hicks was unable to challenge, allowing Blossomgame to back him down for an easy jump hook
- shortly after Hicks fouled out (on a moving screen) and Jackson slid down to the 4, Blossomgame received a secondary break pass at the top of the key and attacked off the dribble to draw a foul on Jackson; he split the free throws to give Clemson an 82-81 lead with 1:42 left in overtime
Blossomgame also blew by Maye (conspicuous by his absence above, perhaps) at one point in the first half to create a drive-and-kick 3-pointer for a teammate.
UNC didn’t do a terrible job on this tough cover: Hicks forced him into some difficult shots (that he made), and also forced a key turnover late in regulation by moving his feet well to pin a driving Blossomgame too deep under the hoop. And, on the game’s very first possession, Hicks forced an offensive reset by denying Blossomgame a shot attempt on his post move. But this game magnified some potential defensive issues for the Heels. Against an aggressive, athletic, attacking dual-threat 4, Hicks is always at risk to be in foul trouble. And, if Hicks does need to sit due to foul issues, the remaining options at power forward (Maye and Jackson) have obvious defensive shortcomings at that spot (containing penetration in Maye’s case, and guarding post-ups/keeping stronger players off the offensive glass in Jackson’s). This is yet another area where Theo Pinson, a more physical small-ball 4 than Jackson, might come in handy. All that said, there aren’t a ton of true inside-outside power forwards like Blossomgame in the country. There are plenty of stretch 4s out there, but not many who are equally comfortable with posting up or attacking off the dribble in isolation.
Trivia Answer: Berry’s 31-point performance is the record for highest scoring output without a free throw attempt (in the RoyW era). Rashad McCants has the next three on the list from the 2003-04 season (30 vs. NC State, 27 vs. Texas, and 26 vs. FSU). Wayne Ellington had 23 without a FTA against Miami in 2009. David Noel (2006 vs. George Mason) and Harrison Barnes (2011 vs. Washington) each had 22 with no FTAs in NCAA Tournament games (McCants’s 27 vs. Texas was also in the NCAAT). Danny Green had a bunch of these (7) in the range of 18-21 points. Truly trivial stuff!