No pun intended, but woof. What was supposed to be a triumphant, nostalgia-filled return for the Heels to Carmichael Arena ended up as yet another demoralizing loss for the injury-ravaged Tar Heels, who were missing several key players and had several others clearly hobbled from past injuries. But that still doesn’t really soften the blow of a second consecutive home loss to a Wofford team that, while still a prolific shooting squad, lost its head coach and two best players between last year and now.
You know what does, at least for me? The continued, inspired play of junior big man Garrison Brooks. The return to a two-big system, with the additional benefit of both starting bigs able to fluidly switch between the high post and low post, has been a gift to Brooks, and he’s started out this season as strong as we could have hoped even while the situation around him has been unsteady. He continued his strong play against the Terriers, leading the team in minutes (33) and points (17) while coming in second in rebounds (12) in the absence of Cole Anthony and Leaky Black helping to run the offense.
Brooks was, as usual, highly efficient, scoring those 17 points on 8-10 shooting from inside the arc. While his backcourt partner Armando Bacot struggled, going 2-14 and looking outmatched against more experienced bigs, Brooks got just about whatever he wanted when he got the ball, the one UNC player for whom that was the case. He was excellent on defense, as well, forcing contested looks inside and closing out hard on the perimeter, though that latter aspect understandably wasn’t always perfect from him (nor from the entire team) Where he wasn’t as good as usual was on the offensive boards; just 2 of his 12 rebounds were on the offensive glass. That was partially due to Bacot cleaning up on that end, with 8 offensive rebounds, but had Brooks gotten his hands on some of those, some of UNC’s second chances might have been more efficient. Despite 18 offensive rebounds, the Heels had just 10 second-chance points. Again, though, it’s hard to blame Brooks for this, and he did just about everything he could for UNC against the Terriers.
An honorable mention goes to Brandon Robinson, who wasn’t as efficient but put up a 16/6/5/2 blocks line on 4/12 shooting (3/9 from distance), led the Heels in +/-, and was really UNC’s only perimeter threat with Black and Anthony not playing. His decision-making faltered at times, including near the end, but he played a good game.
Brooks was great, but he can’t do it alone. Hopefully the Heels get healthy soon and start playing more like a unit, allowing him to maintain this play and have his teammates join him.