Hey, remember when Cole Anthony came back, UNC lost two games after a two-game win streak (against short-handed Miami and NCSU), and a corner of the fanbase deluded themselves into thinking he made the team worse and should have stayed on the bench? I’m glad we’re past that now. Over the last few games, the rest of the team has been re-learning to play basketball next to Anthony, and he’s been re-adjusting to having teammates willing to participate, being more of a facilitator and being willing to play off-ball. All that culminated against Syracuse’s famous zone, and Anthony took turns slicing through it with the pass and shooting over it in a near record-setting day for the point guard. With 25 points and 7 assists on 7-11 shooting from behind the arc, Anthony’s an easy choice for player of the game in UNC’s 92-79 win.
The most obvious change from previous games was that Anthony, recognizing that he’s not being given superstar whistles, is driving almost exclusively to pass now. He took two shots all game inside the arc, one transition layup and one secondary break layup attempt that looked like it got him shoved but nevertheless ended in a Garrison Brooks and-1. Otherwise, whether he was throwing alley-oops to Brooks or assisting on both of Christian Keeling’s made threes, he consistently managed to dribble-penetrate to the free-throw line area, quickly read the floor, and make the right pass for either an open shot or a hockey assist. Whatever the issues earlier in the season, the Cole Anthony that played yesterday definitely knew Roy William’s offense intimately, and orchestrated it to perfection. With him at the helm, UNC scored the easiest 90+ points they have all season.
Like I’ve said all year, the evidence that Roy Williams is still coaching everything the way he knows how to do has been flashing all over this season, even if the results haven’t borne it out, and that he hasn’t lost to Boeheim’s zone since 2013, with basically the same tweaks to scheme this time as every other time, is just another piece of evidence. The past few games, with the exception of Wake Forest, have looked like a team that was starting to gel and take in what they were doing in practice, but reverted to their (bad) instincts when the going got tough. It never got as tough here as it had before, but a 16-point lead closing to 4 isn’t something to sneeze at. An underrated aspect of Anthony’s absence, and then his coming back, was that even though he’s a freshman, he is unquestionably the leader of this team. This time, he led them to close out a game decisively, and that’s noteworthy in and of itself.
As for honorable mentions, Garrison Brooks actually led the scoring charge with 26 points, and 14 rebounds to boot, absolutely dominating the inside after Armando Bacot left early with an injury. You could argue him for player of the game instead of Anthony and I wouldn’t argue too much, but I would point out that his 5 turnovers and 4 fouls were significantly more drawbacks to his line than Anthony had. Christian Keeling continued showing off his newfound shooting stroke, scoring 18 points off the bench on 7/11 shooting. His 2/4 line from three is particularly promising for the final stretch of the season.