The last time the North Carolina men’s basketball team was in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke fifth-year senior Justin Robinson — who only appeared in 15 games that year — lit the Tar Heels up for 13 points on 4-6 shooting from deep.
Robinson’s performance wasn’t the first time a player normally mitigated to a rotational role has changed the trajectory of a UNC-Duke matchup. This year, with the Tar Heels using a platoon-based system and the Blue Devils’ rotation in flux, it’s as likely as ever that someone starting the game on the bench could make an impact.
Here’s a breakdown of the bench rotations for UNC and Duke.
With returners Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks holding down the starting spots in the post, first-year center Day’Ron Sharpe has been a force off the bench. The forward has started just three games for the Tar Heels, but has maintained himself as one of the team’s leading scorers with 9.6 points per game, and leads the team in rebounding with 7.7 boards per game.
Beyond their platoon down low, the Tar Heels have an experienced group of role players on the perimeter. First-year guard RJ Davis has solidified himself as a firecracker off the bench who can lead the second unit. He's reached double figures in scoring in four of his last six games off the bench.
Redshirt first-year guard Anthony Harris has been a spark plug off the bench in limited action this year, highlighted by a five-point performance on 2-2 shooting against Florida State and a 10-point night against N.C. State on Jan. 23.
Senior guard Andrew Platek also adds some juice off the bench, chipping in an average of 4.7 points per game. The senior also hit a game-winning shot against Miami earlier this year.
The Blue Devils’ lineup has been in flux for most of the season.
In recent games, Duke has gone with a starting lineup of Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore Jr., DJ Steward, Jalen Johnson and Jeremy Roach. If this lineup maintains, it leaves senior guard Jordan Goldwire and first-year forward Jaemyn Brakefield as the Blue Devils' most potent options coming off the bench, with first-year center Mark Williams also showing flashes recently.
Goldwire has been in the rotation for Duke throughout his tenure in Durham and has continued to make an impact this season. The senior is averaging 6.8 points per game to couple with impressive playmaking abilities, as he’s put together a 48:18 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s also shot a respectable clip both from the field and from deep, knocking down 39.3 and 30 percent of his shots from those areas, respectively.
Despite going on a cold stretch recently, Brakefield has put together some standout performances for the Blue Devils as well. The first-year had a series of impressive performances in December, including reaching double figures three times against Michigan State, Bellarmine and Notre Dame.
After a series of low-production games earlier in the season, Williams has seen a jump in his playing time recently. He's played at least 13 minutes in each of the Blue Devils' last three games, including an 11 point, five rebound performance against Clemson.
With neither team having a collection of standout starters filling the box score on a consistent basis, expect the benches to play a key role when the Tar Heels and Blue Devils meet on Feb. 6.