It’s kind of cheap to just give Player of the Game awards to every game’s highest scorer, because just scoring doesn’t m’ean you’ve had a good game, and you can have a great game without taking over the points column. But with as offensively challenged as this decimated version of UNC’s roster is, I think it’s almost necessary to give the award to the player who contributes most to UNC’s effort to not be outscored, with very few exceptions as of late. The past two games, it was Garrison Brooks’ Herculean efforts inside. This time, it’s Brandon Robinson’s turn to have the honor.
Robinson had easily the best scoring performance of his career with a career-high 27 points against the Clemson Tigers, outpacing his previous career best of 19 points. He did most of his damage from outside, hitting 5 three-pointers on 13 attempts, but his game wasn’t one-dimensional: he hit all four of his attempts inside the arc, making sure all his midrange jumpers were good shots (which has been a problem for him this season), getting to the hoop once or twice, and doing his best to make the rest of the offense run. He was also 4/4 from the free-throw line, including two clutch free throws late to put the Heels up 3 before Clemson’s last possession of regulation. He had a pretty good floor game for most of the game as well, with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. In the absence of Jeremiah Francis, Roy Williams was forced to go with a kind of point-guard-by-committee approach, and Robinson, who played point guard for most of his pre-college career, was up to the challenge on both ends of the floor.
But he isn’t blameless, either, the way that you could have said Brooks was for the losses to Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, and that’s why I had to qualify this honor with that disclaimer I opened with. Robinson had three crucial turnovers in the game, two of them coming in the final two minutes where Clemson got easy basket after easy basket on UNC live-ball turnovers against press. There’s a lot of blame to go around regarding this, but one of the culprits was Robinson’s mistrust of Andrew Platek, who was on the floor with him and available as a press outlet on at least one, if not both, of Robinson’s late turnovers. Breaking press requires working as a unit on the plays that your coach has set up, and Robinson, a senior, was for some reason unwilling to do it. (He’s not alone in this, by the way. Given the resources, I could probably make a solid 3 minutes of video from this season composed of UNC’s players either giving up on or ignoring Platek on the floor.) Robinson also seemed gassed by the end of the game and unable to keep up with Clemson’s overtime scoring, after playing what has to have been a career-high 41 minutes due to necessity and UNC’s injury troubles.
But at the end of the day, he was the primary reason that the Heels had the chances that they had, before they gave them all away. For that, he’s the Player of the Game. Honorable mentions go to Armando Bacot, who joined Robinson in the 20-point club for the game with 21, but struggled everywhere else with just 5 boards and lackluster defense, and Andrew Platek, who took his first career start and ran with it, putting together a Theo Pinson-like line of 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists despite continuing to be ice cold from beyond the arc.