PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Undistracted by sandy white beaches and crystal clear waters, the No. 6 North Carolina men's basketball team welcomed back senior guard Brandon Robinson and rolled over Alabama in a 76-67 win to open the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas on Wednesday.
After missing the team's first four games due to a right ankle sprain, Robinson poured in a career-high 12 points against the Crimson Tide and tied a career high with six rebounds.
But he was just happy to be on the court again.
“I felt great, just finally getting out there and getting to play basketball again," he said. "It’s just an amazing feeling I was missing, so I feel good."
While head coach Roy Williams said he thinks Robinson still has room to improve, he said he’s glad to have Robinson, who sank three of his six three-point attempts, back on the court.
“He does give you that experience level, confidence; he’s been there before, he knows what’s going on,” Williams said.
Robinson’s teammates agree. Junior forward Garrison Brooks said that Robinson is one of his “best friends,” and that the team and the game were not the same without him.
“I feel like he adds so much to this team, and I feel like he contributes in every statistical category and every part of leadership," Brooks said. "I feel like that was the part we were really missing, man. We just really need him."
At halftime, the Tar Heels held a modest 37-31 lead, mostly thanks to Brooks' 16 points before the break. In the second half, sophomore guard Leaky Black, who said he was "piggybacking" off of Robinson's energy, added nine points, all in the last 20 minutes, to salt away the win.
As for first-year forward Armando Bacot, he credited his 12-point, 15-rebound day to Brooks, another veteran who has helped the younger Tar Heels early on. He also echoed his teammates’ sentiments about Robinson’s return, saying that Robinson acts as an “extension of coach” and that his presence is essential to the Tar Heels’ performance.
“Getting B-Rob back is huge for us," he said. "As y’all see, he can shoot the ball, he’s a leader on the floor. He tells us all what to do and where to be, so having him back is great for us."
Unlike the team’s first four games this season, the Tar Heels saw a balanced scoring spread, with Bacot, Brooks, Robinson and first-year guard Cole Anthony all reaching double-digits. Bacot said that finding a balance between multiple players instead of relying on the talents of Anthony is exactly what this team needs.
“I feel like that’s definitely huge now," he said. "If [other] teams won’t be able to just focus in on one player, and they gotta play us honest, I feel like that’s huge for the team."
That was definitely clear on Wednesday afternoon. With Robinson and his infectious energy back in the Tar Heel lineup, the Tar Heels took the first step towards winning the Battle 4 Atlantis — and might have found their second consistent scorer in the process.
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