Of course it was Garrison Brooks. It couldn't have been anyone else.
Just a couple days ago, Brooks was forced to sit out of North Carolina's game against Louisville to sickness, the first missed game in his career. He dropped eight pounds and spent the past two days eating and drinking as much as he could to get ready to play again.
He has been bruised and scratched, forced to wear goggles to protect his eyes, forced to suffer defeat after defeat. But now, following UNC's 85-79 win over rival N.C. State, how is he feeling?
"100 (percent)," he said. "I'm good. I'm good, I'm good."
Throughout the Tar Heels' worst season since 2001-02, Brooks has been the team's steadiest player, scoring key bucket after key bucket for a team that has desperately needed every single one. He has weathered the storm, and when North Carolina needed him in a game that everyone in Chapel Hill cares far more than they will admit, he delivered.
30 points on 8-15 shooting — including 14-16 from the free throw line — and nine rebounds.
"I know how to motivate Garrison a little bit, so I just got to crack jokes to motivate him," senior guard Brandon Robinson said. "When he gets mad, he plays better. I was just cracking jokes on him all week."
Given the state of the program — the Tar Heels suffered seven straight losses, the second-longest streak in program history — it's no stretch to say Brooks had one of the finest performances of anyone wearing Carolina blue this season.
"He's a dog," first-year guard Cole Anthony said. "As a grown man, you might have to do things you might not want to do. You might not be feeling up to it. But he just fought through."
If there's one thing the Tar Heels did not want to do, it was lose yet another game in the same way. Down 10 points with 5:28 left in the game, the Wolfpack cut it to seven. Then five, then four and then just three with 2:12 to go.
The entire Dean E. Smith Center was holding its breath as the same game they had already seen many, many, many times before this season was unfolding yet again.
Clemson, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Duke, Virginia or Notre Dame. Take your pick, it's all the same story — UNC would miss its free throws or turn the ball over, and an opponent would hit a buzzer-beater. Brooks changed the script, though.
Since the game against Georgia Tech in which he went 17-18 from the charity stripe, the junior forward has shot just 39.7 percent on his free throws. But against N.C. State, Brooks stepped up, fighting through a season's worth of physical and mental pain to hit eight free throws in a row to stop the comeback.
"The only thing I said to him, and this is three or four weeks ago before the Wake Forest game, was just get it up in the air more," head coach Roy Williams said of Brooks' free throws. "Every one he shot tonight, every one in the second half… as soon as it left his fingers, it had a great spin, and that always makes me feel better."
Last time out against the Wolfpack, Brooks led his team with 25 points to get the win in Raleigh. Combined with his 30 points tonight, he has now scored more against N.C. State than Marcus Paige did in the 2013-14 season (50 points) and more than Luke Maye did 2018-19 (52).
Roy Williams' teams have lost just four times to the team in red from Raleigh. That's a number the players, and all of Chapel Hill, take pride in. On Tuesday night, Brooks was the reason that number isn't higher.
"He's one of the guys I'm closest to on the team, and I know how much work he puts in, I know how much he cares about this team," Robinson said. "For him to be in that conversation (of UNC greats), that's special."
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