#MauiJoel is back. That’s the guy who carved up Juwan Evans and Bronson Koenig to the tune of 46 points on 22 FGAs (10-13 of 2s, 6-9 on 3s, 8-8 on FTs) over the final two games of the Maui Invitational.
Of course #MauiJoel was originally known as #BigGameBerry, the guy who won the ACC Tournament MVP and was inches away from a potential Final Four Most Outstanding Player award last season. And, now that the calendar’s rolled around to March again, Carolina fans are hoping he’s back to stay.
Berry, in case you’re just awakening from a coma, torched Duke for 28 points in Saturday’s big win, including, memorably, 5-of-5 first-half shooting from behind the arc. Let’s chronologically recap how Berry got his scoring opportunities (14 FGAs + 3 trips to the line) against the Blue Devils.
- After receiving a Tony Bradley cross-screen in the post, Luke Maye caught a Theo Pinson entry feed on the left block (extended; he was pushed several feet off the actual block). Pinson then cut to set a screen for Berry, who knocked down a top-of-the-key 3 after Maye faced up and located him coming off the screen. Good movement and screening within the freelance passing game to create a clean perimeter look here.
- Berry pushed the ball hard in transition (following a Bradley rebound of an Amile Jefferson miss), pulling up from the right elbow extended for a 16-footer off the dribble. This hoop capped off a quick 5-0 Berry run to turn a 10-9 Duke lead into a 14-10 Carolina one.
- Jayson Tatum got switched onto Berry after a series of perimeter exchanges in Carolina’s freelance motion. With the taller defender on him, Berry jab-stepped to create space and, once Tatum dropped his hand, buried a 23-footer from the top of the key in his face to break a 5-0 Duke run and tie the game at 19.
- In the secondary break, Pinson lobbed an entry to Isaiah Hicks on the left block. A solid wall by Jefferson forced Hicks under the basket without an angle for releasing a shot, so he whipped a brilliant lefty pass out to Berry on the right wing for an inside-out, secondary break 3 to give UNC a 22-19 advantage. Like on Berry’s first hoop, Pinson got the hockey assist here. In addition to leading the Heels with seven actual assists, he also led them with three hockey assists.
- Berry got all the way to the rim in transition, necessitating a help rotation by Jefferson who was able to force Berry’s first miss of the game. The penetration created an easy put-back opportunity for Hicks and, in the words of the esteemed Jay Bilas, acted “almost like an assist” for Berry.
- Berry used a secondary break screen from Bradley to knock down a left-wing 3-pointer off the dribble. Harry Giles hedged on the Bradley screen, but then tried to recover to the roller (as a surprised Luke Kennard seemed to be expecting a switch). This defensive miscommunication created an open 3-pointer for Berry, who didn’t miss it (and cut Duke’s 40-36 lead down to a single point). In general, Duke really struggled defensively with Giles on the court (as he was a total disaster on that end).
- Berry converted a pair of free throws after the Grayson Allen technical foul for elbowing Brandon Robinson. This again cut Duke’s lead back to a point at 42-41.
- Berry received a dribble hand-off from Robinson to knock down another top-of-the-key 3 (his third in the half from this location). Frank Jackson went underneath the exchange (a mistake he’d repeat on a Justin Jackson’s key second-half 3), while Tatum didn’t switch or hedge. The mishandling of the dribble hand-off by the pair of Duke freshmen gave Berry another clean look for his fifth 3 of the half, this time giving the Heels another lead (46-44).
- Using a secondary break ball screen from Bradley that resulted in a Tatum switch, Berry got the whole way to the rim, but missed a right-handed layup from the left side of the hoop. The Heels used the identical secondary action on the ensuing possession, this time resulting in a Berry lob to a rolling Bradley for a layup (and Carolina’s final basket of the first half).
- After another Duke switch put Tatum on Berry again, he tried to create a mid-range jumper on an isolation possession, but had it heavily contested/partially blocked by the taller Blue Devil with six seconds left on the shot clock. Kennedy Meeks was able to draw a foul on the tip-in attempt, splitting a pair of subsequent free throws.
- Berry turned down a Bradley ball screen to drive left on Allen, ultimately having his layup attempt blocked by Jefferson as he tried to get back to the right-side of the rim.
- An aggressive drive by Berry in transition forced a bump by Allen, resulting in a pair of free throws. Berry converted both to give the Heels a 69-67 lead.
- Plays 13.-16., occurring during crunch-time, are detailed here. To summarize: Berry missed a catch-and-shoot short corner jumper created by Jackson’s drive; finished a drive at the rim with his left hand; knocked down a contested mid-range jumper from the left elbow (after turning down the opportunity to feed the post); and banked in a short floater from the right side. Finally, with Carolina protecting an 85-80 lead in the final minute, Berry knocked down the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity before missing the second shot.
While Berry did most of his damage from behind the arc (5-5), he scored at all four levels against Duke. He was 2-of-4 from 10-20 feet, three of them off the dribble and one on a catch-and-shoot. He made his only shot from 5-10 feet, the late floater. At the rim, he was least efficient, converting just 1 of 4 field goal attempts. That’s been pretty consistent with Berry’s year-to-date numbers, as he’s struggled (especially in ACC play) to finish his close opportunities. On the season, his eFG%’s by scoring level are:
- Close: 47.3% (43-91)
- 5-10′: 59.1% (13-22)
- 10-20′: 45.2% (19-42)
- 3-pointers: 63.6% (75-177; 42.4%)
Once Duke started running Berry off the 3-point line, he did a nice job of creating 2-point chances for himself. Still, the Duke strategy was the correct one in the second half. Forcing Berry to hit contested mid-range jumpers and finish at the rim over size is definitely the best way to curtail his efficiency. He’s a good enough scorer to make those shots (and, in fact, did when it mattered against Duke), but it’s a better percentage play then giving him the type of lightly contested 3s he feasted on in the first half.
Speaking of those first-half 3s, Berry hit three from the top of the key and one each from the right and left wings. He did a nice job of getting to his favorite spots as, on the year, he’s knocked down 50% (22-44) on his top-of-the-key 3s and 45% (22-49) from the right wing.
While scoring 28 points, Berry only had a single assist (the secondary break lob to a rolling Bradley that was detailed above). He only had four potential assists on the night, too. But, with Pinson moving into the role of de facto point guard / half-court distributor (he had seven assists and 12 potential assists against Duke), Berry’s been freed up to hunt for his shot and be more aggressive as a scorer. Pinson creating shots and Berry completing them is the best use of each’s relative talents, in my opinion. With Theo’s emergence into a full-fledged distributor, #BigGameBerry has been unleashed to do what he’s wired to do: put the ball in the basket.