Justin Jackson: Best Games From Freshman Season


Justin Jackson’s freshman performance this past season has been a treat for UNC fans. The 6’7 185 pound small forward stepped on campus with an impressive resumé: McDonald’s All-American Co-MVP and a 5-Star, 97-point Scout Score.

However, as all college basketball fans can attest—hype and hero are often two different things. Thankfully though, the true freshman produced and Chapel Hill fans are excited to see where he’ll go next. Let’s examine three games in particular to help outline Justin’s freshman journey.

Game One: Duke 1—to—Duke 2

On February 18th, UNC squared off against #4 Duke in what would be Justin Jackson’s first taste of the best rivalry in college sports. The most-anticipated game of the season for the Tar Heels included ESPN national syndication, both teams battling for higher seeds in the ACC Tournament and the Crazies—those annoying mathletes with painted faces screaming on the sidelines—were in full force.

Also, it goes without saying that both teams hated each other.

It was a game that pitted Jackson against fellow McDonald’s All-American Co-MVP, Jahlil Okafor. Unfortunately, Okafor got the better of Justin by a landslide. The Duke freshman finished with a double-double—12 points, 13 rebounds while Justin Jackson finished with as many turnovers as he did points (two) and shot 12% from the field.

North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina Tar Heels /

North Carolina Tar Heels

Duke squeaked by with a two-point overtime win. It was a tough game for UNC’s true freshman. If Jackson had produced just a bit more, things might have turned in UNC’s favor.

However, the most important part of this story is the second half of it. The Tar Heels’ got a shot at redemption against the Blue Devils 17 days later. At the Dean Dome on March 7th, Justin Jackson redeemed himself. He went 5-7 (71%) from the field for 14 points, had only 1 turnover and was trusted with 26 minutes of floor time.

As a true freshman, this speaks volumes to the mental toughness Jackson brings to the locker room and practice. He bounced back for his teammates and wouldn’t allow his second chance to go to waste. Though the Tar Heels lost this game, Justin Jackson sent a message that he wouldn’t shy away from a challenge.

Game Two: Virginia in the ACC Tournament

Against the ACC Tournament’s #1 seed UVA, Justin Jackson played his best game. He dropped a season-high 22 points, shot 80% from both the floor and three-point range and was on the floor for 31 minutes.

The Tar Heels were ranked 19th in the nation at the time but took it to the 3rd ranked Cavaliers all game, never once losing a lead. UNC won 71-67 in a crucial game. This victory was paramount in giving a final boost to Chapel Hill’s stock value. The Tar Heels were wavering on being labeled “inconsistent”.

Justin Jackson, true freshman, helped boost favor for UNC in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee.

Game Three: Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament

Make no mistake, the Badgers were a great team. They featured Naismith Award Winner Frank Kaminsky, athletic swing guard Sam Decker and forward Nigel Hayes. 7’1 Kaminsky, 6’9 Decker and 6’8 250 pounds Hayes made for a large front-line of Wisconsin big men.

Even with this advantage, UNC fought tooth and nail. It actually took Decker putting up a career-high 23 points and Wisconsin knocking down all 8 of their free throws to seal the victory for the higher-ranked Big 10 champs.

Though UNC lost, the shining light at the edge of the storm cloud was Justin Jackson. The true freshman stepped up in the most important game of his Tar Heel career. Justin put up 15 points to go with 0 turnovers and clocked 37 minutes of floor-time.

Going forward, it’s evident to see to see that Jackson has become an integral piece of UNC’s game plan. We wish him luck and look forward to his performance and growth. For Tar Heel fans, it should be fun to watch.