When the news broke back on November 1st that Brandon Robinson was going to miss time with an ankle injury, there was some concern, but still a lot of confidence because of the fact that Christian Keeling had looked so good in the offseason since coming over from Charleston Southern. Those levels of concern had begun to rise early in the season prior to Robinson’s return to the lineup on Wednesday afternoon, thanks to a slow start to the 23019 season for Keeling (6.8 ppg, 38.7% FG, 21.4% 3PFG). As a team, the Tar Heels had shot just 42.6% from the field and 32.9% from three-point range in their first four games of the season, three of which came against mid-majors.
That’s why, when it was announced shortly before the Tar Heels first game of the annual Battle 4 Atlantis tournament that Robinson would not only return to the lineup, but start, there was so much excitement about his return. Last year, as a role player off the bench, Robinson averaged just 3.4 points in eleven minutes per game, but shot 46.0% from beyond the arc, something the Tar Heels have been dearly missing so far this season. Robinson had a chance to help immediately fill that void against a sneaky Alabama team in his first game back and he did just that.
In his return to the hardwood, Robinson played 26 minutes for the Tar Heels, dropping 12 points, a career high, on 4-11 shooting, but more importantly, knocked three huge shots from long distance. Robinson got himself off to a great start, scoring nine of his 12 points in the first half and combined that with a great first half from Garrison Brooks to put the Tar Heels up by six at the break. While he wasn’t nearly as effective in the second half, his leadership and shooting ability was huge to have back on the floor for a young team that has struggled to score the ball early in the season.
Another big contributor from a year ago, Brooks, led the way for the Tar Heels on Wednesday afternoon. Brooks tied a career high by scoring 20 points on 7-13 shooting, including scoring 16 in the first half to help a Tar Heel offense that got off to yet another sluggish start take a 37-31 lead into halftime. Brooks aggression on the low block paid off all day with easy finishes and a nice day at the free throw line, where he finished 6-8. Brooks was once again a workhorse, playing 36 minutes in the game and continued to play well defensively as he has all season.
-Armando Bacot just continues to improve every time he takes the floor and that trend continued against the Crimson Tide on Wednesday. Bacot finished with 12 points to go along with a team-high 15 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive glass. Since his return to the lineup after the injury against UNC-Wilmington, he has been progressing beautifully, especially on the offensive end.
-It was yet another dominant performance on the glass for the Tar Heels in Wednesday afternoon game, as the team ripped down 60 rebounds and posted a +29 advantage on the boards. Of the team's 60 total rebounds, 23 of them came on the offensive glass and resulted in 23 second chance points. Four Tar Heels finished the game with seven or more rebounds, including another great rebounding performance from Leaky Black, who finished with nine.
-One of the biggest reasons this game was as close as it was: the turnover issues. The Tar Heels turned the basketball over a season-high 20 times on Wednesday afternoon, including six by freshman point guard Cole Anthony, who played as out of control as we have seen him so far this year. Garrison Brooks had four second half turnovers of his own that helped keep the Crimson Tide in the game until the last couple minutes of the game.
-Although he only played 15 minutes in the game and scored just four points, Andrew Platek was a steadying presence for the Tar Heels in the first half. He made a couple of nice hustle plays and a few interior passes that resulted in good looks at the rim. While he is far from the most dynamic player on this team, Platek continues to fill his role this season about as well as anyone could have envisioned after a slow start to his career.
-The Tar Heels put together another fantastic defensive performance on Wednesday afternoon. Alabama shot just 38.2% from the field, the fifth straight opponent to begin the season that has shot less than 40% from the field in a game against the Tar Heels. The Crimson Tide's 67 points are also the highest number allowed by the Tar Heels this season, a team that has yet to allow a single opponent to reach that 70-point mark. While the offense continues to work some kinks out, the defense is about as locked in as it has ever been.