By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — There was finally joy Saturday for North Carolina senior guard Brandon Robinson.
During a rough couple of weeks, he couldn’t even enjoy a career-high scoring game because those 27 points weren’t enough to save the Tar Heels’ perfect record in Chapel Hill against Clemson. That night got worse when the car he was in was hit head-on by another car driven by a driver charged with driving while impaired.
Then came the nightmare game at Pittsburgh in which not only did UNC get blown out, but Robinson aggravated the injuries he suffered in that Jan. 11 accident. That led to him having to stay home in Chapel Hill and endure watching his teammates lose a double-overtime game at Virginia Tech.
It wasn’t until Saturday morning that Robinson was sure he’d play against Miami. Not only did he play, but he also started and showed his value with career-high totals of 29 points and 6 3-pointers to lead a 94–71 blowout of the short-handed Hurricanes.
“I feel very great,” Robinson said. “The mood in our locker room is so much better. I feel so much better just because I’ll be able to sleep good tonight. I’m so happy about it.”
Asked if he’d ever shot so well in a game, he said yes, but it happened while playing in high school or AAU games.
It ended frustration for Robinson that went beyond a five-game losing streak and a school-record six-game ACC losing streak. He already missed the first five games of the season because of a sprained right ankle. When the accident happened, a more severe injury might have ended his college career.
“I didn’t try to put that negative thought in my head that I wasn’t going to play basketball again this year,” Robinson said. “I don’t really try to think negative about anything. You know, I just love playing basketball. So right after it happened, I just wanted to play because I just love playing basketball and it wasn’t smart for me to play the other day. It was smart for me to take a week off and just recover and actually take care of my body and do the proper things.”
That led to the decision for Robinson not to make the trip to Blacksburg, Va., even though he wanted to be there.
“They didn’t want me to get any more complications with my neck,” he said. “But it was just tough for me sitting at home watching it just knowing that it’s my last year. I don’t want to miss any games. It was like another letdown for me because I was missing another game. It hurt me a lot because I felt like if I was there, we could have won that game and I could have helped out a lot.”
Starting in Robinson’s place at Virginia Tech was Justin Pierce, who said you can’t minimize his impact.
“He’s such an important player for us with his shooting ability and his leadership,” Pierce said. “So, it’s great to have him back. He’s our senior captain. He’s been in these situations before. We’re just glad to have him healthy and looking forward to him continuing to build on this for us here.”
As if Robinson needed more motivation to play well against Miami, uninformed opinions fans posted on the internet gave him plenty.
“When they announced I wasn’t going to play against Virginia Tech, people told me on social media and stuff I was faking or I was soft and stuff,” Robinson said. “So, I used that as motivation to come out here today and just did everything I could. So that added fuel to my fire.”
Still, the decision for Robinson to play wasn’t made until Saturday morning. During practice drills on Friday, Robinson was limited to participating in only three out of every nine drills.
Freshman center Armando Bacot, who has dealt with injury issues himself, was impressed with Robinson given the limited practice time on Friday.
“To put on a show like that speaks a lot to his character and shows how tough he is,” Bacot said. “He’s a tough kid.”
Once he felt good Saturday morning, he was ready. But the after-effects of the accident are evident in his neck, which is still sore. Every time he went back to the bench, trainer Doug Halverson massaged the neck applied a heat patch.
“I’m still fighting through some discomfort,” Robinson said.
Miami was without two starters, including its best player. But it was a feel-good game for UNC and Robinson specifically. He could enjoy this career-high, unlike the one against Clemson. That night, he wouldn’t even talk about it.
“I didn’t really care about it because we lost a game,” said Robinson, who lingered while sprawled on the court after his potential game-tying 3-point attempt in overtime didn’t go in. “People might think I’m crazy but I’ll go out there and score two points and if we win the game, I’ll be happy. I was just so disappointed that we lost that game.”
This game was different thanks to the Tar Heel sharing the ball better than they have all season, with 32 assists, tied for the most by any Roy Williams team. Better spacing and better passing gave Robinson more chances from the perimeter, and he made the most of it with six 3-pointers in 10 attempts.
“I’m happy for B-Rob to get back out there and, needless to say, we need his shooting ability and we need his leadership,” said Williams, who finally got career win No. 880 to pass his mentor Dean Smith. “He even got an offensive rebound for a basket, too.”
The good passing was spread around with Bacot (who had 19 points and 12 rebounds) dishing out seven assists and four others (led by Leaky Black’s six) adding at least four assists.
“I think we did a good job of getting the ball inside and when they collapsed with Garrison [Brooks] or Armando, especially Mondo, we did a great job kicking it out to me while I was wide open. So, I knocked it in,” Robinson said. “We didn’t settle a lot for threes. We were getting the ball inside and finishing. So that was good for us. Definitely not settling for jumpers. And we were smart about if we missed threes to get the ball inside.”
Robinson just hopes the positives from Saturday’s victory can be carried into Monday’s visit to N.C. State. The Tar Heels still hope to turn a season around that still has them standing 9–10 overall and 2–6 in the ACC.
“It was definitely tough because I felt like we have a lot of games that we’ve been losing when we’re actually doing some good things. We’re leading in some of those games,” Robinson said. “So, to finally just maintain the lead the whole game to come out here and win it feels great. So just have got to use that momentum going into the next one.”
He has taken on the role of senior leader that so many of his former teammates seized in past years, including Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson, Cameron Johnson and Joel Berry.
“They all helped me for this position I’m in right now,” Robinson said. “Going against those guys every day and watching them every day seeing the work they put in, and how they prepare for games and seeing the things they did. It helped me for this moment right now. They did so much for me just learning from them. And just always asking them questions and them being willing to help me … pulling me aside, just giving me advice on how to go about things.”
He also learned from the mistakes of former team leaders such as Berry, who provided fodder for the Wolfpack by saying that N.C. State wasn’t UNC’s rival. Robinson wasn’t going to go there when a reporter asked if he viewed the Pack as a rival.
“You’re trying to bait me. I’m not trying to fuel nobody’s fire trying to bait me, so I’m going to pass on that question,” Robinson said.
He’s a senior leader to clearly “rival” the ones who preceded him.
Triangle Sports Network: 401-323-8960, @tsportsnet