It’s been a rough few games for UNC freshman Nassir Little. The Wooden and Naismith pre-season watch lists member averaged just 4.6 points on 5-17 shooting in his first three ACC games. It was admittedly a tough stretch for the the Heels’ top recruit. But it only takes one shot…one game to end a slump.
Tuesday night, the Tar Heels looked to bounce back after suffering one of the worst losses in Dean Dome against Louisville. Notre Dame was threatening to send Heels fans into a full blown panic as they lead by as many as six points in the 2nd half of play. Then it happened. With 11:37 remaining and the Heels in a 1-point battle with the Irish, Little checked into the game. Notre Dame would take a one-point lead on a tip-in basket by Mooney and then nasty Nas took over. Baseline drive – dunk! Drive – dunk! Tip-in! 3-point play! The Heels outscored the Irish 12-6 over the next five minutes. Little scored 9 of those 12 points – putting UNC up for good.
“His shot hasn’t been going in for him,” Coach Williams said after the game. “He took it to the basket and made good plays. I think he was probably the key to the game. 11 points, and if I’m not mistaken, I didn’t even put him in the first 6 minutes of the 2nd half. I thought he was huge for us.”
Like Coach said, the key to Nassir’s impressive stretch was not settling for outside shots. The quick and athletic forward is tough to guard when he’s driving and making plays at the basket. When your shot isn’t falling, it’s important to find other ways to get involved in the game offensively. But to Little, it’s simpler than that. The freshman said he wasn’t enjoying himself and getting back to doing that was key for him.
“I wasn’t having fun the last few games. Everybody is all worried and stuff, but at the end of the day I just had to find that fun I had coming in. When you’re not playing well you tend to stress things too much and overthink. I was playing really hesitant, so I just had to get back to myself and be confident and do what I do.”
As the grind of league play continues, Little’s increased confidence will be key to a Tar Heel team with Final Four aspirations.