For one night, he took it all in.
He took in the pregame ceremony featuring his parents, Frank and Twyla, who made the trip from Douglasville, Georgia. He took in the roar of the home crowd when his consecutive 3-pointers put North Carolina up 78-69 on Wake Forest.
He took in that final walk down the bench — hugs and handshakes and daps galore — as he subbed out for one final time at the Smith Center, with 6.9 seconds left in a 93-83 win.
If only it could have lasted a little bit longer for Brandon Robinson, the lone four-year scholarship senior on this UNC roster who scored 18 points on the Senior Night he always felt was so far away until it came.
“This year has been a year of up and downs,” Robinson said. “Having to fight through adversity, fighting through injuries, going through a car accident, not winning, but all in all I’m grateful for every moment I’ve had here.”
North Carolina (13-17, 6-13 ACC) won its third straight game Tuesday in a late-season push it hopes carries over into Saturday’s game at Duke and next week’s ACC Tournament. And the Tar Heels couldn’t have done it without Robinson, who contributed to UNC’s hot-shooting second half and game in general with his 18 points, third to Cole Anthony’s 28 and Garrison Brooks’ 25, and team-high five 3-pointers.
That was actually a point of teasing leading up to the win. Since Robinson returned from an ankle injury four games ago, he’d made just five total 3-pointers. Roommates Brooks and Sterling Manley made sure to jokingly remind Robinson that, on your Senior Night, you’re actually supposed to score.
He did just that, with back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Tar Heels up nine points with five minutes to go in a game they never led by more than 10. His final point in the Smith Center came, ironically, in a situation where UNC has faltered before late: at the free throw line.
“He’s a tough kid,” guard Christian Keeling said. “The way he performed today, it just shows he’s a persevering guy, too. He’s been through a lot his whole career.”
How so? Robinson laid it all out in a candid postgame senior speech.
You know the recent developments: the nagging ankle injuries all season and the January car wreck, hours after the Clemson game, in which he was hit head-on by a drunk driver in Carrboro.
But how about how he arrived on campus a “wild freshman,” as he put it, and ended up a team captain? How a private conversation with Sean May and Kendall Marshall helped right the ship his junior season? How he pulled Roy Williams aside late in his first year, when he wasn’t playing much, in serious need of guidance and reassurance?
“The amount that he's grown is unbelievable,” said Shea Rush, a fellow senior and Robinson’s first roommate. “He’s turned into a man. That’s the only way I know how to say it. The way he holds himself, the way he speaks, he’s come leaps and bounds.”
Added Brooks: “He’s like my big brother. I don’t use that word lightly. That’s my guy.”
Keeling concurred: “We couldn't win without him. He’s our ultimate captain. I love him to death, love him as a man and as a player.”
When Robinson asked Williams for advice that day three years ago, the coach told his player: “Son, keep working. Keep pushing. You’re going to be a big-time player here.” That meant the world to him, Robinson told his coach as he spoke at midcourt with a microphone in hand.
He took the advice to heart, and it’s paid dividends. On 3-pointers, Robinson’s bread and butter, he shot up from 23.3 percent as a first-year to 39.1 percent as a sophomore to 46 percent as a junior.
As a senior, he’s made a team-high 51 3-pointers (and five or more four times). That included Senior Night, and Robinson has it his way, he’ll do a few more times over this next week as UNC attempts an ACC Tournament miracle run. His coach, for one, is a believer.
“I remember that time we talked,” Williams told Robinson when it was his turn with the mic. “And you did become a big-time player, son.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.