Don’t look now, but the Tar Heels might be gaining just a little momentum coming down the stretch of this 2019-20 season. After a win on Tuesday night over NC State completed a season sweep of the Wolfpack and ended a seven-game losing streak, the Tar Heels took a trip to Carrier Dome to face a Syracuse team looking to keep any hopes of making the NCAA Tournament alive. In the Orange’s final home game of the season, the Tar Heels would come away with their second consecutive win and their first on the road since late January.
Very similar to Tuesday night’s game, Garrison Brooks had a huge game with support from Christian Keeling and Cole Anthony to spark a strong performance on the offensive end. Brooks finished the night with a team-high 26 points on 9-14 from the field and shooting well from the free throw line (8-8) for the second consecutive game. His 14 rebounds also led the team by a large margin and gave him his 12th double-double of the season and first since the loss to Boston College. After some struggles in the middle of the conference slate, Brooks has become this team’s best offensive player once again.
Not far behind him is Christian Keeling, who just continues to shine as we close the season. Keeling played 27 minutes off the bench for the Tar Heels on Saturday afternoon and finished with 18 points on 7-11 from the field. The confidence is no longer lacking for Keeling and he has become a big part of the improvement that this team has shown over the last two games.
Cole Anthony may be the player that will be talked about the most, though, as not only has he scored the ball well over the last two games, he’s done it efficiently. For the second consecutive game, Anthony shot over 50% from the field, going 8-13 from the field to score his 25 points on Saturday afternoon. He also did a great job of sharing the basketball, finishing with seven assists and just two turnovers, a stat that has flipped in the last two games from him as opposed to what we saw in the previous seven games.
The one thing that soured an amazing performance from the Tar Heels was the loss of Keeling in the final minutes due to what appeared to be a left leg injury. As we mentioned, he was a big part of a Tar Heel team that shot 51.6% from the field, 42.3% from deep and scored 40+ points in both halves for the second consecutive game. Let’s hope that Keeling’s injury isn’t anything major, because he has helped this Tar Heel team begin to build some momentum that could help them make a run in the ACC Tournament.
-Roy Williams continued his dominance against the zone on Saturday. Both Garrison Brooks and Justin Pierce were able to take advantage of the soft spots in the zone and Christian Keeling also did a good job finding the shooting holes on the perimeter to help Carolina have a big day offensively. As was the case in games earlier in the year against Yale and Miami, Coach Williams game plan worked wonders again to help the Tar Heels come away with a big win.
-Just like a year ago, the game against Louisville where the Tar Heels were outrebounded has led to huge responses in the games to follow. The Tar Heels posted a +10 advantage on the glass on Saturday and that was with the big man, Armando Bacot, playing just nine minutes after sustaining an undisclosed injury in the first half.
-The Tar Heels looked good at the line once again on Saturday night. The Tar Heels hit the free throw line 17 times in the game, converting on 15 attempts, a much better clip than their 66.6% mark for the season.
-Armando Bacot only played nine minutes as we mentioned above, leaving due to injury. Bacot was more effective than he was on Tuesday night in his limited minutes, but Pierce has still paired better with Brooks over the last two games than Bacot. You have to wonder if Bacot’s minutes will continue to diminish down the stretch, especially if he is not healthy.