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UNC Basketball: Bittersweet

After failing to get over the hump several games in a row, Roy Williams’ latest milestone feels strange to celebrate.

NCAA Men’s Final Four - Practice Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The North Carolina men’s basketball team beat the brakes off of the Miami Hurricanes in the Dean Dome on Saturday afternoon. This was a solid win for a group of guys that needed terribly to find their way back into the win column, sure, but it was also so much more.

It’s no secret, really, that coach Roy Williams moved into sole possession of the fourth spot on the all-time wins list. It’s also no secret whose record he surpassed to get there. Dean Smith is one of the greatest coaches of all time, if not the greatest flat-out. Coach Williams has always been very deferential to his mentor, going out of his way to credit Coach Smith at every turn for his part in Coach Williams’ success. Williams’ own unwavering willingness to ‘point to the passer,’ especially after the legendary coach’s passing in 2015, has been a constant reminder of how lucky the Tar Heels are and were, to have had such great coaches past and present. For Coach Williams in particular, though, this moment has to be bittersweet. It’s unsurprising that the lack of fanfare after the final buzzer on Saturday was at his request, and not just a symptom of a program-wide unwillingness to celebrate surpassing the win total of the man who lent his name to the building with the right-blue seats, where the team finally carried Coach Williams to 880 wins.

It also has to be bittersweet for such a milestone win to come in the midst of such an uncharacteristically bad year for the Tar Heels. The 880th win for Coach Williams could’ve happened against the prior six ACC opponents, and yet had to wait for a beleaguered Miami squad that was also missing its starting point guard. Perhaps that also played a small part in the conspicuous lack of post-game fanfare after the clock hit zeroes on Saturday, with Roy Williams simply jogging back to the locker room, ostensibly to begin preparations for Monday night’s game in Raleigh. The nature of the season hasn’t given the Heels a lot to celebrate, and one could argue that would be all the more reason to celebrate when the cause does arise. A hall-of-fame coach climbing the list of all-time wins is nothing small, but Coach Williams doesn’t seem interested in savoring the feeling, even after he watched his struggling squad finally locate some offense and secure the win at home.

The Miami Hurricanes had no answer for Brandon Robinson on Saturday afternoon. He hit six threes on 10 attempts and tacked on 11 field goals for a career-high 29 points. This was an incredible offensive performance, even when you factor in a Miami squad that has admittedly been decimated by injury. Besides B-Rob, though, no other Tar Heel hit more than one three-pointer. The outside shooting woes continued for everyone not named Robinson, with the only two other Tar Heels scoring in double digits on the game being Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot. Watching Brandon Robinson score like he did on Saturday makes one stop and think, at least someone whose brain is broken (like mine), to wonder what could have been. The presence of someone like Cole Anthony threatening opposing defenses could have freed Robinson up in other games, something that could have tipped the scales and stopped the skid before the Tar Heels dropped below .500 on the season.

Still, there are little spots of brightness in even the darkest night. There are shadows cast by even the brightest light. Sometimes breaking a record can be bittersweet, and sometimes good things can happen in the midst of a historically bad season.