Can you truly have a heartbreaker when it’s been ripped out of your chest so many times?
It’s seasons like this that make you appreciate just how good you’ve had it as a fan of this program. Last night Virginia came in and knocked the Tar Heels to five games under .500 for the year, and may have extinguished any sort of flickering hope they had for getting further enjoyment out of the season.
You want to have something poetic to say here, but honestly, there just isn’t much else one can say to lead up to what we learned about this team last night. Let’s just dive right in.
Everyone Knew That Ending Was Coming
Clemson. Virginia Tech. BC. Duke...twice. Fans had seen this team get its heart ripped out time and time again this season, and after last weekend, there wasn’t a single fan who thought “OK, this time we will hold on!”
My thought was “The only question here is if they lose on a two or a three.”
The bad thing is that it was actually great defense all the way up until Leaky Black bit on the ball fake. The easy layup was well defended, unlike last weekend, and the ultimate shooter for the Wahoos, Thomas Woldetensae, gave up two inches to Leaky. In what can only be explained as another example of the team not having the greatest Basketball IQ, Leaky jumped in the air — which can only result in bad things — and left Woldetensae the opportunity to slide over and take a clean shot. Everyone knew it was going in.
This fanbase has survived buzzer-beaters before, and we don't need to relive the one that is still the most painful, but to see this team lose time and again at the end of close games is enough to sap the soul of even the most optimistic individual. It does make you wonder how on Earth they are even going to compete the rest of the season when it just seems like they are always on the bad side of the breaks.
Christian Keeling Has Found His Shot
The Heels aren’t even in this position without Christian Keeling. To say his start has been disappointing is an understatement, but shots started falling for him against FSU, and since then Roy Williams has been rewarding him with increased minutes. This culminated with him getting the start over Andrew Platek last night, and he rewarded the coach’s faith with 11 points on 4-6 shooting, and cooly hitting all three free throws to get UNC the lead that they would ultimately give up.
Since the FSU game, Keeling has gone 21-37 for 53 points, and has done it by limiting his shots behind the arc, only going 3-7. The pessimist can look on and ask where this was before, but it’s probably not a coincidence this is coming with Cole Anthony back on the court. Anthony is drawing more defenders as he plays the ball, which frees up Keeling’s movement. This has synced up with the clear recognition by Keeling that the three-point shot just isn’t in his range right now, so he’s taking the mid-range instead, and the makes have increased his confidence.
There’s no better sign of his confidence than those made three throws at the end. Keeling came in only hitting 64%, but there was zero doubt on any of those makes. In a season as depressing as this one, it’s great to see that Keeling has shaken that off and clearly worked to try and be an important part of the team.
Brooks and Anthony Continue to Improve
Also lost in the heartbreak was that Cole Anthony and Garrison Brooks both had good games on the floor at the same time. The point totals were good on their own, 20 for Brooks and 17 for Cole, but it was how they both got their points that really gave one hope for both of their games.
UVA’s pack line defense and experience in guarding Carolina meant they were going to clog the inside as much as possible, making entry passes and easy shots for Brooks and Bacot near impossible. Brooks shook this off by extending his range and hitting several mid-range jumpers, and even cleanly hitting a three. It’s easy to forget because of the role he’s had up until the season that the four is his natural position, which means in this offense he’d have room to roam outside. That he’s hitting those shots now will pay dividends down the road, both for UNC and for him as he looks to extend his basketball career.
Meanwhile, Cole continued his positive trend by trying to facilitate the offense for the majority of the game, and finally took over when things started to stall out. He’s clearly shown he’s not giving up, suffering yet another injury on a play where he was called for the foul...because UNC Basketball in 2020. His mood at that point really could serve as how every Carolina fan feels this season:
Cole Anthony: "Why am I always getting hurt!?" pic.twitter.com/kmka45ZVLa— Kevin Boilard (@247KevinBoilard) February 16, 2020
If you didn’t listen live, you probably can guess the word that followed Anthony’s statement.
This kid has come back from a torn knee, is still going at it hard each game, and was elbowed in the head and came back again. We all know this isn’t the season he was imagining, but that he hasn’t gone full “F it” yet is a level of maturity that will serve him well at the next level.