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Jackson gets rolling in Tar Heels’ rout

By Aaron Beard

AP Basketball Writer

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Justin Jackson never lost confidence, even if he maybe started pressing a bit, when his shot suddenly stopped falling late in North Carolina’s season.

Trust the work you put in, he told himself.

Friday offered a reminder of why, and maybe a bit of reassurance, too.

The Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year broke out of a shooting slump with 21 points to help the top-seeded Tar Heels roll past Texas Southern 103-64 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament’s South Region.

“It was a good feeling,” Jackson said. “I haven’t shot the ball the way I’ve wanted to the past four games, so I got back in the gym as much as I possibly could, trying to get back to where I was. My teammates found me; they set a bunch of screens for me, and they just fell for me tonight.”

The 6-foot-8 junior had made just 20 of 60 shots (33 percent) and 7 of 31 3-point attempts (23 percent) in his last four games. But he had 19 points by halftime in this one, helping the Tar Heels (28-7) quickly eliminate any chance of an unprecedented upset.

Jackson finished 8 of 13 from the field and 5 of 8 from 3-point range with seven rebounds.

“I just tried to put the work in on the court, away from practice and away from the games and trust that preparation,” Jackson said. “Whether I felt it or not, I go into every game thinking I’m going to hit shots, but having that preparation definitely helps a little bit.”

He had also spoken recently with coach Roy Williams to remain confident and stick with what helped him to a big year.

Isaiah Hicks added 17 points and Kennedy Meeks had 13 for the Tar Heels, who are a No. 1 regional seed for an NCAA-record 16th time.

Kevin Scott scored 19 points to lead the 16th-seeded Tigers (23-12), the champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

SWAC player of the year Zach Lofton struggled, finishing with nine points on 2-for-11 shooting.

“Once you have a mistake and two … you look up at the shot clock, you’re down 10,” Texas Southern’s Marvin Jones said. “All of a sudden you look up, and you’re down 15.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas Southern: The season marked another sign of solid footing for the Tigers under former Indiana coach Mike Davis in the SWAC. This marked three NCAA appearances in four seasons going back to 2014 and 2015.

“North Carolina is just at a totally different level than where we are as a basketball team,” Davis said.

UNC: Jackson’s recent shooting funk was the most obvious concern as it started its push to return to the Final Four after losing in last year’s title game. The Tar Heels entered Greenville on a down note after losing to rival Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

“We wanted to come out and play well and really build momentum for us,” sophomore Luke Maye said, “and I think we did that.”

BERRY’S STATUS

UNC point guard Joel Berry II left for the locker room briefly in the second half with an ankle injury, but returned minutes later. Williams said Berry should be fine.

LOT OF POINTS

It was North Carolina’s highest point total in an NCAA game since scoring 108 against Arkansas in the 2008 second round.

NEW LOCATION

The Tar Heels lost the chance to open in their home state when the NCAA yanked games from Greensboro due to that state’s passage of a law limiting protections for LGBT people. The games moved to South Carolina — the state’s first chance to host since 2002 — after it removed the Confederate flag from state capitol grounds in 2015.

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