UNCs Jackson remains confident despite shooting slump

Since going 5 of 11 from distance at Pittsburgh on Feb. 25, a performance that greatly enhanced his Player of the Year credentials, UNCs Justin Jackson has made just seven of his last 31 3-point attempts

Mark Dolejs—USA Today Sports
Feb 9

GREENVILLE, S.C. — The theories as to what’s wrong with Justin Jackson’s shooting stroke are as abundant as chic opening round upset picks in an NCAA tournament office pool. Depending on who you listen to, he’s either getting more attention from opposing defenses, pressing since being named ACC Player of the Year or wearing down after a long season as North Carolina’s primary scoring option. Or all of the above. But if you ask Jackson, the answer to the problem is a lot more simple than any of the aforementioned theories. His shots just aren’t falling right now. “I mean, it was four games that I have not shot the ball well. That’s all it is,” Jackson said Thursday as he and his top-seeded Tar Heels prepare to play No. 16 Texas Southern at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in the opening round of the NCAA’s South Region tournament. “So for me, I’m still going to shoot the ball the same way, still going to be aggressive, still going to do everything I’ve been doing all year. It’s not like all of a sudden the world is ending.” Jackson has been by far UNC’s most consistent perimeter threat this season with 90 3-pointers on 239 attempts. His .377 percentage from beyond the arc is 73 points higher than his previous best two years ago as a freshman. But since going 5 of 11 from distance at Pittsburgh on Feb. 25, a performance that greatly enhanced his Player of the Year credentials, the 6-foot-8 junior has suddenly lost his touch. He has made just seven of his last 31 3-point attempts, raising concern that something might be amiss. “There is concern, but I think we’ll see Justin get back to who he was in the first 30 games,” coach Roy Williams said. “He and I have had a couple of talks and he’s even told (the media) that he thinks he pressured himself too much. I’ve addressed that with him and hope that will be helpful to him. I think it will be.” As much as Jackson appreciates his coach’s effort, he said the pep talk wasn’t really necessary and that his confidence is as high as it’s ever been. “He just wanted to reiterate that he still has the same confidence in me,” Jackson said. “I know my teammates have the same confidence in me. So there’s no change. I’ve just got to get back to working on it.” To that end, Jackson spent extra time in the practice gym shooting in the week that’s past since UNC’s loss to Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals in Brooklyn last Friday. Because of the long break between games and the start of a new tournament, Jackson has a chance to wipe the slate clean on his recent shooting slump and start over fresh. Although the Tar Heels don’t figure to have much trouble against the SWAC champion Tigers, they’re going to need his shooting to return to form at some point to have a shot at making a deep NCAA tournament run. Teammate Joel Berry said it’s only a matter of time before he Jackson heats up again and goes on another tear. “He’s had a great year. He’s the ACC Player of the Year,” Berry said. “It’s just that other teams realize he’s a key part of our team and they’re trying to take the ball out of his hands. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in for you. There’s nothing you can do about that. You just have to continue to take the shot you usually take. His confidence is still there. I think he’s going to have a great tournament.”