HOUSTON — If you’re playing North Carolina basketball bingo, a Brice Johnson rage dunk is the free space in the middle of the board.
The flexing and the yelling is going to happen every game, it’s just a matter of when.
But a Justin Jackson rage dunk? Now, that’s a rarity, the bingo space that never gets filled in.
With 3:36 to go in Saturday night’s 83-66 win against No. 10-seed Syracuse, however, Jackson found his inner fury and unleashed a monster two-handed slam and let out a scream — probably his first in-game one ever.
“Every once in a while you’ll see something like that from me, but I think that might’ve been the first one,” Jackson said, grinning.
Jackson actually slammed two dunks Saturday night en route to scoring 16 points. He’s been playing more aggressively, something that comes naturally with the bigger stage.
“It’s the Final Four,” Jackson said. “That’s what we work for. Now it’s the National Championship. It’s what we work for all summer, all year. So everybody knows you’ve got to give it your all. I don’t really know where that came from but I guess that’s just a part of giving it your all.”
A pretty mild-mannered guy, Jackson isn’t known for flashy dunks. His teammates have seen flashes of emotion, but it isn’t a common characteristic in his game.
“Justin’s got a lot of bounce, got long arms,” freshman Luke Maye said. “He’s very athletic dude. He just really, he does a lot of things like that in practice and he just really doesn’t show a lot in a game. He’s more of just a two points kind of guy. That’s what coach always says. He’s more comfortable shooting a layup, but he got pretty excited.”
But even if that dunk got the crowd going and stretched the lead to 12, teammate Theo Pinson wants to see more strength out of Jackson.
“We mainly criticize him on the rim bend,” Pinson said. “Does he bend the rim when he dunks? He had one of them today. The second one was not a rim-bend. We always get on him about it. We were really proud of him by having one of them.”
So can we expect to see any more of those rage dunks from Jackson in Monday night’s national championship against Villanova?
“If it comes to it, it might,” Jackson said. “I feel like now would be the best time to bring it out. Who knows. If the time comes, it’ll come.”