When I was at Carolina in the early 2000’s, my suitemates at Granville and I used to play Wrestlemania 2000 on Nintendo 64 for hours. One of my suitemates, Adam Mincher, used to crow at me all the time if he got the first two or three moves off on my wrestler. It did not phase me. Those matches lasted a long time. After 60-90 minutes of back and forth action, I usually came out on top.
So it went with UNLV and Carolina yesterday evening. The Runnin’ Rebels got off to a hot start and led 13-0. Simultaneously, UNC’s senior leader Garrison Brooks did not get off on the right foot, missing his first four shots, perhaps pressing as he needed just one more basket to get into Carolina’s 1,000 points club. Garrison did not score his first bucket until 12 minutes into the game.
The rest of the team had his back, clawing their way back to level footing in the first half, going into intermission with a seven-point lead, then breaking the absolute brakes off of UNLV, with stout defense and an overwhelming +19 rebounding margin.
Garrison finished with a stat line that looked awfully similar to his numbers in any number of ACC games last season: 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals. If he had hit his free throws (Brooks went 4-8), he would have been UNC’s leading scorer.
Leading scorer R.J. Davis warranted serious consideration (scoring 16 points on 3-4 three-point shooting and six rebounds), but with the milestone attached to his performance, it only feels right to give Garrison the nod in a close finish.
One thing that doesn’t show up in the box score is that Garrison and his post mates got UNLV’s forwards to commit a LOT of fouls. Devin Tillis fouled out, Cheikh Mbacke Diong had four, and Reece Brown had four. A majority of UNLV’s points came from their star guards Bryce Hamilton and Caleb Grill. The Rebel big men just couldn’t hang.
Garrison Brooks will likely not set the world on fire scoring this year. His supporting cast is better equipped to shoulder the load than it was on last year’s team. But if UNC can continue to get perimeter scoring (perhaps at a slightly healthier percentage) from its backcourt and wings, it will allow Garrison and his buddies in the post to truly dominate games. Four different players hit 3’s last night, and Caleb Love didn’t look far off.
The Tar Heels will get another shot to see if they can free up space in the paint for Garrison Brooks to eat tomorrow against Stanford. The paint will likely be crowded again, due to the Cardinal’s zone and Coach Jerod Haase’s familiarity with Roy Williams’ offense. An improvement on Carolina’s 35% three-point shooting would be a great sign of things to come.