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UNC’s Threes Freeze

The Tar Heels are having a seriously hard time hitting from outside.

North Carolina v Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - DECEMBER 07: Brandon Robinson #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels shoots in the first half during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena on December 7, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Theo Pinson was a gregarious, engaging presence when he played at North Carolina (2015-18). He also was versatile, worked hard, and was a defensive force who filled a key role on the 2017 NCAA championship team.

During his senior season Pinson averaged 10.3 points per game, fifth-best on his squad and the best of his career. But he was never known as an artful scorer, especially when it came to sinking jump shots. The 6-5 wing was particularly feckless from 3-point range, leading UNC fans to cheer his makes lustily and to hold their collective breath when he let fly.

Of the least accurate bombardiers during Roy Williams’ first 16 seasons at Chapel Hill, Pinson turned in two of the lowest annual conversion rates.

But he’s now in danger of being quietly eclipsed, or underwhelmed, among recent Tar Heels by three members of this year’s squad, which nearly halfway through the season is the worst 3-point shooting bunch during Williams’ tenure.

Leading the way (a dubious distinction) are Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce, a pair of grad transfers from Charleston Southern and William & Mary, respectively, brought in to fill roster gaps.

Keeling hit at a .352 clip on 429 career 3-pointers for the Buccaneers. Pierce hit .345 from beyond the arc for the Tribe. But right now they’re at .190 for Keeling and .225 for Pierce.

This wouldn’t matter so much if the ’20 Heels functioned efficiently elsewhere on offense or had other ace marksmen. But what with injuries and the after-effects of early departures, the usual Williams offensive juggernaut was 10th in scoring offense in the ACC through its loss to Clemson, averaging 70.7 points per game.

The grad transfers and holdover guard Andrew Platek, another inexact shooter from long range pressed into service, have taken about a third of Carolina’s threes and converted a cumulative .217 (20-92) percent. In UNC’s 1-4 ACC start, the trio of wings were a combined 4-20. This is a problem.

Career reserve Brandon Robinson became a starter in 2020 as a senior, and stepped up as a perimeter threat. Happily the Georgia native already had made nearly as many 3-pointers (30-86, .349) in 16 games as in his first three years combined (39-103, .379).

In last weekend’s historic loss to Clemson Robinson was 5-13 on 3-pointers and scored a career-best 27 points. The remainder of the squad was 1-10 from the bonusphere. The trio of teammates who appear in the chart below missed all eight of their threes.

Worst Season 3-Point Accuracy by UNC Player Under Roy Williams
(2020 Through Games of January 11, Minimum One Try Per Game Played)
3% Player Year 3-3A Games Mins %FGA3
.190 Christian Keeling 2020 4-21 16 of 16 267 .236
.207 Larry Drew II 2011 6-29 21 (left) 479 .337
.208 Leslie McDonald 2010 11-53 34 of 37 350 .390
.222 J.P. Toyoto 2014 8-36 34 of 34 975 .136
.225 Justin Pierce 2020 9-40 16 of 16 306 .444
.226 Andrew Platek 2020 7-31 14 of 16 259 .500
.226 Theo Pinson 2018 12-53 37 of 37 1100 .193
.237 Theo Pinson 2017 9-38 21 of 40 500 .336
.244 Marcus Ginyard 2006 10-41 31 of 31 581 .238