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UNC vs. Yale: Three Things Learned

Despite Anthony Harris’ knee now in question, the Heels managed to squeak out a win against the Bulldogs.

Yale v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

One of the luxuries of being a follower of the North Carolina Tar Heels is that there aren’t too many games that require blood pressure medication. However, this year isn’t a normal year, and it’s likely that we’ll all end up in the hospital very soon considering the events that have transpired. After putting together a massive comeback, the Heels almost gave the game away in the final minute but found a way to leave the Dean Smith Center with a 70-67 win against Yale. The win gave Roy Williams the win he needed to tie Coach Smith in all-time wins, and it could be that the game against Georgia Tech puts him ahead of the Tar Heel legend.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a great deal to celebrate outside of Williams matching Dean Smith’s win total, even after walking away from the game with a win. With Anthony Harris injuring his OTHER knee, there’s yet again a new set of questions for this young, bruised, and battered team. Perhaps those questions are best served to discuss another day, but for right now let’s dive into a few other things that we learned from last night’s victory.

Justin Pierce’s Predictable Resurgence

One thing that has been discussed among all of the writers here at THB is Justin Pierce’s struggles since he has gotten to Chapel Hill. Performance against UNCW aside, his contributions to the team haven’t quite been what we expected, and if I’m being brutally honest, this all goes back to a theory that existed before he arrived on campus.

When going through the game logs from his time at William & Mary, I noticed an interesting pattern in his production. Against ACC opponents, Pierce struggled mightily in each and every one of those games, which made me wonder if that unfortunate luck would carry over to this team. Keeping in mind that to this point he has only played two ACC opponents, he has also played a number of Power Five teams and did not perform particularly well against them. Last night against Yale, however, was a different story as he finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, an assist, and a block. He went 54% from the field, which is a considerable improvement over his 34.9% average for the season.

It goes without saying that all of this could be one massive coincidence, and what this game against Yale really represents is the beginning of Justin Pierce finally starting to piece everything together on the court. However, it also could be that he really hasn’t figured out how to deal with bigger, faster, tougher opponents at the Power Five level, and if that is the case, we may have to start to wonder if he ever will. We’ll have to wait and see how things go starting this weekend.

B-Rob Found “Michael’s Secret Stuff”

After struggling for a good amount of the season to get anything going, Brandon Robinson had an impressive performance that helped maintain some separation from Yale in the second half. Robinson finished the game with a team-high 20 points on 7-18 shooting. The most impressive part of his shooting performance is what he was able to do from deep, as he went 5-12 from the three-point line, His performance in other areas of the court were important in this win as well, but his ability to knock down shots was something that this team desperately needed to avoid losing to an Ivy League team for the first time in the Roy Williams era.

The bigger story here that lies within B-Rob’s performance, however, is what sparked such a strong performance: confidence. For weeks now we’ve watched the Tar Heels look rather lost on offense, and when they were able to get lightly-contested or wide open shots shooters looked very hesitant to take advantage. Just a year after having gunslingers like Coby White and Cameron Johnson on the team, things have changed considerably for this team. Robinson’s performance was important for the win, yes, but seeing him shooting the ball with loads of confidence and the killer mentality that this team has been missing is exactly what every other capable shooter of the team needs to take note of.

If we never see Brandon Robinson shoot the way that he did last night, at the very least what I’d like to see going forward is a more aggressive, confident player that is able to give his teammates confidence as well. As the key senior player on the team, it may be more important for him to get things going than anybody else, especially as long as Cole Anthony is on the bench.

The Fearless Freshmen

While it hurts me to discuss this considering the circumstances, Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris has done wonders for this basketball team. Francis finally got the call to enter the starting lineup last night, and it’s safe to say that he will remain in that position at least until Cole Anthony is healthy. While he only went 3-9 from the field, everything on the offensive side of the ball just looked better from a ball movement perspective, and it’s clear that he knows how to play the position really well.

As far as Harris goes, he only made 2 of his 5 attempts but also was very aggressive all night. He finished the game +10 in the +/- column, which not only led the team, but he was the only one to hit double digits in that particular stat line. Is the stat debatable? Of course, but in this case I think it points to just how important it’s been to have Harris, as well as Francis (who was +3 following some mistakes down the stretch), have been in their returns.

Unfortunately, the cold water that has to be thrown on what we’ve learned is that we now have to wait and see just how serious Anthony Harris’ injury really is. If he has to miss any period of time larger than what Cole Anthony has to miss, it’ll be really hard to see this ending well for both Harris and the team this season. Let’s hope that he is alright, and that we will see him back in the lineup very soon.