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North Carolina energized by return of Theo Pinson

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North Carolina trounces NC State 107-56 (0:49)

Justin Jackson hits six 3-pointers, posting 21 points in total as part of North Carolina's monster win over NC State 107-56. (0:49)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina didn’t have a 50-point win for 16 games this season. Theo Pinson made his debut Sunday against NC State, and the Tar Heels won 107-56.

Coincidence? Pinson would say not. But that’s just Theo.

The undeniable clown prince of North Carolina basketball -- as comfortable crashing coach Roy Williams’ news conferences as he is crashing the boards -- is back.

“He lightens the mood every single day. Whether you’re in a bad mood or a good mood, he’ll always have you laughing,” junior forward Justin Jackson said. “He’s a great teammate always looking out for you, so he’s one of the guys you would always want to have on your team.”

Pinson’s impact was minimal in Carolina’s blowout win. But his insertion into the lineup after missing the entire season with a foot injury could be just the boost the Heels needed after a letdown in a 75-63 loss at Georgia Tech and a stretch of performances where they didn’t play up to their potential.

“When I started recruiting him, I thought his high motor was the most impressive thing about him,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “When he gets involved and he’s playing, people feed off that.”

Junior forward Isaiah Hicks called Pinson “the energy guy.”

The junior from Greensboro, North Carolina, was ready to be a full-time starter entering the season until he broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in October. It was a bit of a repeat for Pinson, who broke the same bone in his left foot as a freshman.

Pinson did not break his mouth though, and he stayed in the ears of his teammates even when he wasn’t with them on the floor.

“[Tyler Hansbrough, Marcus Paige, David Noel], those are the guys that I say that are almost the perfect leaders because they back up their own talk with their play,” Williams said. “Theo just talks. He just talks.”

And every so often, the Tar Heels actually stop to listen to what he’s saying. And Pinson’s message in the closing seconds of their win over the Wolfpack was serious about what’s been missing.

“Really, we’ve just got to play with more passion, a little more fight and we did that [against State],” Pinson said. “What I told them on the sidelines was when we’re locked in like this, I don’t think anybody can beat us.”

Pinson brings more than just levity to the Heels’ lineup. He’s arguably the most well-rounded player on the Tar Heels’ bench. Williams attributed the phrase to broadcaster Clark Kellogg when he called Pinson “a stat stuffer.”

His line against the Wolfpack -- 5 rebounds, 5 assists, no turnovers, 4 steals in just 13 minutes -- overshadowed the fact that he didn’t score on three shot attempts.

In one sequence, he sagged down in the lane and stripped Abdul-Malik Abu then started a fast break that ended with two of the Heels’ 37 points off turnovers.

Pinson said he considers his role on the team to be, “what I did [against NC State], just affect the game in some way and just try to contribute.”

He’ll likely get a lot more minutes to do that as the season progresses.

Pinson is the big guard the Heels didn’t have in his absence.

Kentucky’s 6-foot-6 guard Malik Monk was able to shoot over Carolina’s smallish guards Joel Berry and Nate Britt and 6-foot-4 Kenny Williams en route to his 47 points.

In a conference with guards the likes of Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon (6-foot-7), Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis (6-foot-7), Duke’s Grayson Allen (6-foot-5) and Luke Kennard (6-foot-6), and Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (6-foot-6), Carolina has needed a defender like Pinson who can be a difference-maker.

“He’ll help us out on the defensive end, especially with his size and length and athleticism,” Berry said.

Pinson also adds another ball-handler in the lineup and can grab a rebound and go. Carolina scored a season-high 25 fast-break points against the Wolfpack.

Was that because of Pinson’s return?

You know how he’d answer that.

“Everyone likes to be loved a little bit,” Pinson said. “I was just glad to be back out there.”