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UNC vs. Duke Player of the Game: Garrison Brooks

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There were a lot of good choices, but on Senior Night, there really is only one choice.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe the thing that has become the most predictable about this unpredictable season is that Carolina would respond to their bad game on Monday with a resounding win yesterday. Still, no one wanted to fully believe that the Tar Heels would put on such a dominant effort. I know I refused to believe the game was in hand until Roy Williams put in the bench seniors for the second time.

In retrospect, the player of the game Garrison Brooks, going 2-3 from three probably should have been a clue that it was in a bag the whole time.

There were plenty of options that one could have gone with for this prestigious award, but for all intents and purposes Garrison locked up the title when he came back out on the floor after rolling his ankle on the first made basket of the game. The first set for the Tar Heels came after a Duke miss, and saw Garrison drain a 15-footer, the shot he’s actually gotten really good at this season. The problem is that when he came down, he rolled his foot on Duke’s Matthew Hurt, and immediately have to run off the floor. The senior went immediately into the tunnel and was gone through the first TV timeout, luckily the team was able to keep it moving without him.

When Brooks came back, his impact was felt. He ultimately finished with 14 points on 6-9 shooting, five boards, a block, an assist, a steal, and again the 2-3 from the three point line. When he wasn’t on the floor, he was seen on the exercise bike keeping his ankle moving so that it wouldn’t tighten up. One of the benefits of the Covid restrictions was the ability for the staff to bring out that bike so Garrison would keep his feet moving.

Garrison wasn’t the leading scorer, and several have an argument for being the POG. Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton, and Armando Bacot all finished with 18 points, and at one point Bacot actually led Duke all by himself, 7-4. Walton’s jumper was back to looking pure, helped by the fact he made his first jumper closer to the basket. Ultimately he went 4-7 from behind the arc. Caleb Love clearly loves playing against Duke, as the version fans saw in Cameron Indoor last month appeared again: confident, shooting well, and giving us all hope that a corner has been turned as the postseason begins. Day’Ron Sharpe only had seven points but tried to kill several Duke players with those point, so that always warrants consideration.

But as Garrison walked off the Smith Center court for, presumably, the final time and he flashed the biggest smile we have seen from him all season, it was tough to give it to anyone else. Expectations were high for him, and to say the least this season hasn’t been what he or fans had wanted. However, the warm embrace by his teammates as he came off the court and the noticeable welling up of his eyes exemplified how special the night was for him, and there’s no doubt that his toughness at coming back out on the floor spread to the rest of the team.

Whatever else can be said about Garrison’s career, he can say this: in his senior season he swept Duke in the regular season for the second time, and his team beat Kentucky. Not many that have worn the jersey get to say that. It’s clear that while this season may not have been what he wanted it to be, it was still special nevertheless.