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The Daily Tar Heel

Analysis: Without Brandon Robinson, UNC's new wings could have to step up early

UNC senior guard Brandon Robinson (4) takes a free throw shot at the exhibition game against Winston-Salem State on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019 in the Smith Center. Shortly afterward, Robinson sustained an ankle injury and did not play for the rest of the game. UNC won 96-61.

North Carolina basketball was already going to have to lean on a number of new faces on the wing this season.

Then, in an exhibition against Winston-Salem State on Friday, senior guard Brandon Robinson went down.

Robinson sprained his right ankle in the first half against the Rams while attempting to block a shot, and was on crutches after the game. Though UNC announced that x-rays came back negative for a fracture, no timetable was given for his return.

His absence will present even more opportunities for a couple of newcomers – graduate transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce – plus Andrew Platek. 

The junior guard from Guilderland, New York averaged 1.1 points per game in 3.6 minutes for UNC last season, but figures to be a more prominent part of the Tar Heels' backcourt rotation this year. 

With the departures of Coby White, Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson, Platek provides much-needed three-point shooting and can space the floor for first-year point guard Cole Anthony and others. He's a career 35.7 percent shooter from long range on 42 attempts, and should also look to be more aggressive attacking the basket and creating plays for teammates. 

Then there's Keeling and Pierce, two more sharpshooters who could very well be the keys to a successful season for UNC.

Keeling, a 6-foot-3 guard from Augusta, Georgia, joins the Tar Heels after three seasons at Charleston Southern, where he averaged 18.7 points as a junior on 38 percent from three-point range. He's a proven scorer at the mid-major level who can fill it up in all three phrases of the game; the only question is if he can do the same against ACC-level talent.

He also averaged 6.9 rebounds per game last year, impressive for a player his size — though head coach Roy Williams said those rebounds won't come as easily for Keeling against superior athletes. Keeling, for his part, says he learned at CSU what it takes to compete on the glass.

“Coaches always tell me, ‘You don’t have to have skill to rebound and defend,’” he said. “It’s just effort. I knew I had to help my team out, so I tried to do it in all ways possible.”

Pierce is a 6-foot-7 forward from Glen Ellyn, Illinois who played three years at William & Mary before transferring. Last season he averaged 14.9 points and 8.9 rebounds and shot 32.4 percent on triples; the year before that he posted 14.7 points per game on a blistering 41.6 percent from deep.

The reason for the shooting dip, according to Pierce, was a wrist injury that hampered his offseason routine.

"Ask any good shooter, to take three months off without shooting, it's really hard," Pierce said after the team's Late Night with Roy event. "I get a lot of questions about that — why my percentages were down last year. But you can ask anyone on the team, I can shoot the ball."

Pierce will likely see time as both a wing and as a small-ball four for the Tar Heels, and could be a major threat in the pick-and-pop with the likes of Anthony (though that's not the type of game Williams typically likes to play). His multifaceted game and ability to stretch the floor might remind fans of Luke Maye, though Pierce is 30 pounds lighter and seems to have a quicker first step.

With Robinson likely out for the season opener vs. Notre Dame, the trio of Platek, Keeling and Pierce will look to keep defenders honest and stretch the floor when UNC runs offense through Anthony and a stable of big men. Assuming he's able to come back fully healthy, the Robinson injury could end up being a blessing in disguise — a chance for Williams to assess his other options at the wing spots and see who's best equipped to help North Carolina compete for a title.


@DTHSports |

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