Along with Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce was another grad transfer that was supposed to be a big part of the 2019-20 season. Pierce picked Carolina over ACC school Notre Dame, and Big Ten power Michigan. Pierce’s skill set was to be utilized as an inside-outside scorer, and a guy that could hold his own on the glass. But a lot like his grad transfer counterpart, Pierce had a difficult time adjusting to the level of play in the ACC:
After a less than stellar debut against Notre Dame, Pierce showed the potential of the player we thought we were getting at UNC-W. Against the Seahawks, Pierce dropped 18 points off the bench, and grabbed 12 rebounds. He provided a boost off the bench, and by connecting on 4 three pointers added some perimeter shooting. It wouldn’t be until December 30th against Yale, until Pierce scored in double figures again. In the games between them, Pierce struggled mightily to adjust to tougher competition, and how to fit in the UNC system. Pierce averaged just 4.3 points per game, despite getting constant minutes on the floor.
The Yale game was thought to be a breakout game for Pierce, and for the team collectively. Following back to back wins, they had a chance to build some much needed momentum in ACC play. That didn't happen for Pierce, or the team unfortunately. Pierce scored 11 in a embarrassing home loss to Georgia Tech, that started a 5 game losing streak. He scored 15 in an overtime loss at Virginia Tech, but between those 2 games, scored only 4 points as consistency was an issue. He wouldn’t score double figures again until the home loss to Duke, which would be the final time he reached double digits for the season.
The team snapped a 7 game losing streak against NC State, where Pierce played 28 minutes. Following that game, he played 18 and 24 minutes respectively, as Roy Williams favored him over Armando Bacot in the second half of games. While he wasn’t scoring at a high level, he was impacting the game in other areas that allowed him to see such minutes. It didn’t last long though, as his minutes were cut in the season finale at Duke, and again in the ACC Tournament where the season came to an end.
There were times that Pierce displayed the type of play that allowed him to succeed at William & Mary, it just never carried over while he was in Chapel Hill. It’s possible that if the team didn’t endure all the injuries that they did, he would’ve carved out a role best suited for him.