I know none of us want to, but let’s briefly revisit the worst part of UNC’s loss to Michigan yesterday. Cole Anthony, after a couple of bad possessions that had seen the Heels fall behind by 12 with the score being 36-48, came out of the game for a brief rest at about the 14-minute mark. What had been sloppy for UNC soon became nightmarish: offensive possessions looked lifeless and defense was nonexistent for 3 minutes, and Michigan got on a hot streak, helped by easy shots: Layup, layup, open 3, open 3, layup, and a bad if manageable 12-point deficit had ballooned to 24 with 11 minutes to go. With more than a quarter of the game left, it already felt over.
Anthony came back into the game to a score of 36-60 and didn’t exit it until the game was actually effectively over, and in that time seemingly took it upon himself to shoot the Heels back into it. He didn’t score every point of the ensuing 23-7 run that cut the margin to single digits with about three minutes left, but he was certainly the catalyst, and scored about half of it: first, he started the run with a putback layup. Then, he reintroduced himself with a stepback three (his second of the game) before putting on his best Joel Berry impersonation and beating the backcourt defense down the floor for a couple of comfortable midrange jumpers. He got the ball to wings, especially Brandon Robinson, who suddenly started connecting on post entries that they just hadn’t been making before, and altogether started running an offense that looked like what Roy Williams has wanted this team to run all season. Anthony didn’t turn the ball over once in that stretch.
He wasn’t perfect: he missed a free throw and a corner three that felt like it might really give the Heels a chance in this game, and had just one assist as it seemed he’d gone into hero mode. But you couldn’t really blame him this time, as you might have during some of UNC’s other early-season struggles, because he was undeniably carrying the team towards its only hope of taking a game it had previously had no hope of winning.
Anthony played well outside that stretch, too. He finished with a line of 22 points on 8/17 shooting (2/7 from three) and 4/6 from the free throw line, to go with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals, though he had a rough time overall on the defensive end against an experienced Zavier Simpson. His distribution numbers could have been higher, but the Heels collectively just couldn’t hit shots for most of the game; only Brandon Huffman, on 2 attempts, shot better than 50% from the field. Anthony definitely wasn’t in takeover mode the whole game, only when it seemed there was no other option. As advertised before the season started, he showed an intimate understanding of when to go with the flow and when to be the flow, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s comfortable enough and has played enough with his teammates to the point that he can do both of those things to the best of his ability, which I don’t think we’ve quite seen yet.
Garrison Brooks had a solid day, with 13 points and 8 rebounds with essentially one eye after getting poked hard in the other early on. Brandon Robinson continued to make his return felt as well, going 4/8 for 9 points and seemingly making good things happen whenever he was on the floor. He led the team in +/- at +5, for whatever that’s worth to you. But this game, and it’s not the first nor will it be the last to be this way, belonged to Cole Anthony, and unfortunately this time he and the team fell short.