CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- It's easy to get buried by North Carolina's scorers. That goes for the Tar Heels' players as much as it does their opponents.
And when you're Justin Jackson, whose reserved and introverted demeanor has garnered constant instructions to stay aggressive, it made things difficult to work out of his shooting slump.
Jackson's troubles were a bit overshadowed while Marcus Paige, the ACC preseason co-player of the year, had the more publicized slump for the Tar Heels. But Jackson didn't need any reminders. He knew how bad it had gotten.
When he watched a replay of the Boston College game, Jackson said it made things worse hearing the announcers say how many shots he'd missed.
“I hit my first 3 and they said I was 0-for-30 in the last 30 3-pointers that I shot,” said Jackson, who exaggerated the total. “… that's almost the worse you can [possibly] do.”
Paige, who was walking by Jackson's interview, chimed in: “That's almost worse than me, J.Jackson -- almost.”
Jackson is now officially out of the slump. He scored 14 points in the Heels' 85-64 win over Pittsburgh on Sunday after coming off a 20-point game in their 68-65 win at Boston College. He's a combined 15-of-21 shooting in those two games, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range.
It's just the second time Jackson has ever made multiple 3s in consecutive games and the first time this season.
But it hasn't been easy, especially on a Carolina team that can score in so many different ways.
“A lot of great scorers, when they're in slumps, teams will run a lot of sets to get them the ball and kind of get them in a comfortable rhythm,” Paige said. “But we don't have to do that because we've got so many guys who can score.”
Jackson, one of five Carolina players averaging double figures at 12.1 points per game, is one of those guys.
When the Tar Heels needed him to play well with Paige sidelined with a hand injury to start the season, Jackson scored 20-plus in consecutive games against Northern Iowa, Northwestern and Kansas State.
Thing is, the Heels don't depend on Jackson scoring in order to win. That's why his shooting slump went largely unnoticed during their 12-game win streak and 8-0 start to ACC play.
In the six games prior to the win at Boston College, Jackson shot just 34 percent from the field. (Compare that to his overall average for the season at 48.4 percent.) His shooting woes from 3-point range were longer and more troublesome; he hit two of his past 26 going back to the Appalachian State game on Dec. 21.
He didn't exactly get a pass. Jackson received a lot of hate on his Twitter feed. It caused the normally reserved Jackson to lash out at his critics on Twitter after the Tar Heels' 80-76 loss at Notre Dame:
“To all the 'fans' out there… Thank you! The support/demeaning talk is just motivation! We'll be alright! #GodIsAble.”
Jackson admitted he let his frustration get the best of him and that he “probably could have kept it to myself.” He has since deleted his Twitter app off of his phone so he won't be tempted to look at what's being said -- good or bad.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams' decision to bring Jackson in off the bench against Boston College helped him reset his focus.
“Whenever I shot the ball, I was like, ‘I got to make this so I can get out of this slump,' instead of just shooting it like I know it's going in,” Jackson said. “So I think I definitely relaxed a little bit. It's just a different attitude honestly, just going out there trying to have fun instead of going out like I have to do something.”
Carolina becomes that much more dangerous offensively when Jackson is making shots. He's one more perimeter player who has to be accounted for, and it helps keep spacing opened up inside for Brice Johnson.
With the Heels this season, for every player who gets hot, it seems there is someone who slips off. Kennedy Meeks might be in that rut now.
In the nine games prior to Meeks' injury, he scored in double figures six times and averaged 9.4 rebounds per game. In the nine games since returning from injury, Meeks has scored in double figures just twice, but his rebounding has slipped to just 4.7 per game.
Williams said he tries to prevent his players from equating playing well strictly with how much they're scoring.
“It's human nature, today's culture makes it even worse because that's all most people talk about, especially their parents,” Williams said. “I think you have to tell the team it's all about the name on the front of the jersey. If you take care of the name on the front of the jersey, the name on the back will be taken care of.”
Jackson has firsthand experience that can help Meeks out.
“For us on a team this deep, we just have to do little things to get back into the game,” Jackson said. “There's a lot of times whenever you're in a slump, you want to get a play called for you, you want to get the ball and go make a play, but you can't really pay attention to that. You just have to go out there and just play.”