On one of the most difficult days in the history of the sports world, the Tar Heels and rival NC State took to the court the day after basketball icon Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others perished in a helicopter in southern California. The Tar Heel that seemed to be playing with the heaviest heart was guard Brandon Robinson, who met Kobe back in 2015, a guy that was his favorite player as a child. Robinson not only honored Bryant by putting his name and number on his shoe, but fought through multiple injury issues throughout the game to help his team grind out the victory for his team, even clinching the game with four clutch free throws late in the game. To put it simply, Robinson played with that Mamba mentality to help his team pull out an important victory.
His tough nosed performance teamed with another big game from Garrison Brooks to spark his team to a gritty 75-65 win. Brooks led the way for the Tar Heels on the offensive end, scoring 25 points and ripping down 11 rebounds, taking over the first half on to get the team off to a good start after a slow first two minutes of the game. Brooks performance earned him his ninth double-double of the season and seventh in the last eight games. Jay Bilas said it eloquently during the broadcast, talking about just how big of a step forward Brooks has taken, going from a role player that was expected to just play good defense on the team a year ago to a player that is now the heart and soul of this Tar Heel team in both ends of the floor. He has stepped into that role perfectly and has given this team a fighting chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
-For the second consecutive game, the Tar Heels had a solid night from the field, hitting on 49.1% of their 57 shots on Monday night. After struggling to hit shots for most of the season, it’s good to see this team stringing together back-to-back solid shooting games as they try to make a late push.
-Leaky Black had one of his best games of the season on Monday evening, scoring 11 points and corralling 7 rebounds. Combine that with what he on the defensive end, helping hold Markell Johnson to just 6-19 from the field, and there is reason to be encouraged about his progression.
-Christian Keeling didn’t have a huge game by any means, but came up big when the Tar Heels needed him to. He hit back-to-back key buckets after the Wolfpack had cut the lead to three, the closest they came to the Heels in second half after the lead was cut to two in the opening seconds of the second half. While Keeling is still far from the player we were expecting him to be, he’s starting to show signs that he can help this team as a rotational player down the stretch.
-This game was won in two particular areas. The Tar Heels got to the line 25 times on Monday as opposed to State’s seven and the Tar Heels also finished with a 42-31 advantage on the glass.