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Three Things Learned: UNC at Wofford

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Garrison’s aggression, freshmen being freshmen, and getting punched in the face.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Wofford Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

That’s how you handle business on the road. North Carolina waltzed into Wofford’s fancy new arena, played something that resembled basketball for 40 minutes, and then strolled out with a season opening win. With last year’s loss officially avenged, what else did we learn last in Spartanburg, South Carolina?

Garrison’s Aggression

Give credit where credit is due — yesterday, when examining five pre-season questions that surround the Heels, I stated that Sterling Manley would be the key to UNC’s inside game and overall success. For at least one night, Garrison Brooks emphatically refuted that sentiment. He finished the night with 20 points and 5 rebounds. Meanwhile, his tormentor from last season, Cameron Jackson, finished with 10 points, 9 rebounds, and zero blocks.

What he lacks in finesse and overpowering size, Brooks makes up for in floor placement, aggression, and efficiency. Throughout the night, fellow Tar Heels found Brooks on drop-off dishes at the block, alley-oops, and post feeds. He didn’t shy away from contact, went to the rim with two hands, and finished through his defenders. Gone was the frustration, sagging shoulders, and heavy sighing that was prevalent during last season’s learning curve.

Against bigger opponents, that aggression won’t be as effective as it is against the Wofford’s of the world, but it’s a welcome sight. Last night’s performance was reminiscent of some of his later season performances last year – specifically against Duke in the ACC Tournament. After almost a decade of length and finesse in the post, it’s tempting to say that he potentially could be the most aggressive Tar Heel big man since Tyler Hansbrough.

Freshmen are Freshmen

Folks, we knew this was going to happen. In their first official competition, Nassir Little, Coby White, and Leaky Black combined for 15 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 turnovers in a combined 52 minutes. Not exactly an overly impressive performance, but not terrible. They were hindered by poor shots, turnovers, and uneven defense. That’s ok.

Sure, there were some memorable moments. Nas had a big block in the first half, knocked down a pair of timely threes, and was involved in two huge Cam Johnson daggers (see below). Coby White dropped 4 assists, and had 6 big points in the final 5 minutes. Leaky Black flashed his length along the perimeter, helping guard Fletcher Magee when Kenny Williams went to the bench. In the first game, though, those moments were few and far between. That’s to be expected.

They’ll get better. Just remember that it’s only November. The trio will continue to improve, get comfortable, and settle into a rhythm. By January, we’ll all be laughing about their first game and admiring how far they’ve come.

Take a Punch

This game could have easily gotten away from UNC. The season opener, on the road, against a team that beat them the year before is a recipe for disaster. This had the storyline that early-season upsets are made of.

Crisis averted.

Midway through the second half the Terrier tied the game at 49-49 using three pointers to land metaphorical uppercuts. The Heels were stunned, but still standing. They could have folded. Last year they often did. Then Cameron Johnson took over and it seemed he was going to singlehandedly lead UNC to a victory. A mini-barrage of threes over a stretch over a span of 2:46 effectively ended Wofford’s chances. Five possessions and 14 points later, we all could breathe easy. See below.

But the response didn’t end there. Those were the haymakers that pushed Wofford back against the ropes. The rest of the team responded with right and left jabs that eventually led to a knock out.

Garrison Brooks scored seven points in the final 6:39. Coby White nailed a three to push the lead back to double digits with 4:18 left. Ditto for Luke Maye, who did the same with a jumper at 3:49. Kenny Williams, despite exiting to tend to an injury in the second half, returned and simply reaffirmed his reputation as one of the best defenders in the ACC, and possibly the country. His efforts helped hold Fletcher Magee to 21 points on 7-23 shooting (3-16 from 3), 0 rebounds, 0 assists, and 3 turnovers.

Bring on Elon.