This season has really known nothing but pain, and that pain continued last night in Blacksburg as a team that everyone assumed had given up by the performance on Saturday took Virginia Tech to two overtimes. That they did it without Brandon Robinson on top of all their other injuries makes it all the more laudable.
That’s where we are in the season: silver-lining tough losses.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort by the players, this time. With the crippling injuries Roy Williams has faced, he played just a seven man rotation, with four players getting 45 minutes or more. The effort was there, but by the end it was clear the players on the floor just had no energy left.
The player who gave the strongest effort was, to nobody's surprise, Garrison Brooks.
The junior has been thrust into a role where he has been forced to step up just about every game, and he answered the call this time with 28 points and 12 rebounds, all in 48 minutes of work. It’s also notable he was 6-8 from the free throw line, but the misses came earlier in the game, and when he was called on to hit big free throws later, he made them.
Virginia Tech was so tired of getting burned that they doubled Brooks every time he touched the ball by the end. This was made easier by Armando Bacot fouling out of the game in the first OT, and playing the majority of the second half with foul trouble. Without the second big man to worry about, the Hokies were able to correctly guess that if they shut down Brooks, the Tar Heel offense would stagnate. Still, the Tar Heels had a chance to win the game in regulation with a ten footer by Brooks, but he rushed the shot slightly and it was long. Still, unlike any other end game situation this season, you actually felt like they got it to the right player at the right time.
Also worth noting in this one is the three point shooting of two players, Justin Pierce and Leaky Black. We learned before the game that Leaky has been playing with a sprained wrist, but he toughed through it to score 12 points on 3-6 shooting behind the arc in 47 minutes. Pierce went 3-5 behind the arc, and 6-10 overall, scoring 15 in his 45 minutes of play. Pierce got the start in the Brandon Robinson spot and had arguably his best game of the season, and easily his best since the UNCW game.
If there is one positive to come out of this season, it’s the growth of Garrison Brooks’ game. Teams forced to double him should leave space for his front court mate and the eventual return of Cole Anthony.
It may be too little, too late to save the season, but there is at least some reason for hope the team will improve as the ACC Season moves on.