Berry's soreness eased by trip to Sweet 16

UNC point guard Joel Berry was far from his best Sunday, but he was good enough in his gritty 34 minutes to help his team a season-extending 72-65 victory against the Arkansas


GREENVILLE, S.C. — The discomfort Joel Berry felt in his sore right ankle Sunday was mild compared to the emotional pain that awaited him and his North Carolina basketball teammates as they faced the possibility of a premature exit from the NCAA tournament.

So even though the Tar Heel star was slowed by a sore right ankle suffered two days earlier, he knew he had to suck it up and do whatever he could to pull his team through its second round South Region game against Arkansas.

Berry was far from his best, but he was good enough in his gritty 34 minutes of action to help UNC to a season-extending come-from-behind 72-65 victory against the Razorbacks at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

“Going into the game I felt pretty good,” Berry said. “I did my all to try to get back on the court today. Towards the end of the game it got really sore. I just tried to fight through it and do the best I could on the defensive end, because that’s where we needed it. Overall right now, it’s very sore. But I’m good.”

The junior point guard suffered his injury Friday when he landed on the foot of a defender and rolled his ankle during the second half of UNC’s opening round victory against Texas Southern. He also required medical attention Sunday when he ripped a fingernail while following through on a shot, a condition that led to his nail being superglued back in place.

Berry said the finger is something that has happened to him before and didn’t affect his performance.

The ankle, however, was a different story.

“More than anything, my ankle kind of bothered me on my lift on my shot,” he said. “In the first half I had great lift and made two threes. Then in the second half, towards the end, it started bothering me. But I think I’m tough and I had to fight through it to do what I can to help this team.”

Berry was already fighting a shooting slump before his injury, having made only two of his previous 12 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc over a three-game span. He made two of his first five long-range shots Sunday before missing his final three. In all, he was just 2 of 13 against the Razorbacks while finishing with 10 points.

One of his misses, however, turned out to be the most important shot of the game.

It came in the final minute after UNC had battled back from a five-point deficit to take a one-point lead. With the shot clock running out and the Tar Heels in desperate need of a basket, Berry fired up a desperation shot as he crashed into the line. The ball glanced off the glass right into the hands of teammate Kennedy Meeks, who tipped it in as the shot clock buzzer sounded to increase UNC’s lead to 68-65.

“I wasn’t sure when I went to bed (Saturday) night that he would play,” coach Roy Williams said of Berry. “You look at his stat sheet. It doesn’t look great when you’re 2 for 13. But he was a tough little nut out there today and helped us in every way possible. The ball didn’t go in the basket for him, but I thought he was something.”

Not only did Berry have a hard time putting the ball in the basket, so did ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson — who despite managing 15 points, made only five of his 14 field goal attempts.

Things don’t usually end well for the Tar Heels (29-7) when its two top two offensive threats shoot poorly in the same game. On this day, though, they managed to squeak by and advance to Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup with Butler in Memphis.

“Honestly, just me and Justin being aggressive, taking the shots we usually take is what helped us out,” Berry said. “Even though they didn’t go in, I think me and Justin helped our team out in a different way other than scoring the ball.”

Between them, Berry and Jackson were credited with seven steals and eight assists. They also played major roles in the late defensive surge that saw UNC hold Arkansas scoreless on its final six possessions and outscore the Razorbacks 12-0 over the decisive final 3½ minutes.

“We just realized that if you win you get to stay around, but if you lose that’s the end of your season,” Berry said. “We just don’t want it to be our end. We have dreams and goals we want to reach and we didn’t want them to get cut short.”


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