College Basketball

The Tar Heels beat UNCW handily. But this issue has Roy Williams and his staff concerned.

Roy Williams said he doesn’t recall a time in more than 30 years as a head coach when he had a bench as short as this one this early in the season.

Four UNC scholarship players were dressed in suits Friday night against UNC-Wilmington because of injuries. Freshman big man Armando Bacot suffered what appeared to be a concussion in the first half of UNC’s 78-62 win, and did not return. And only seven players played more than eight minutes.

North Carolina’s Brandon Robinson and Sterling Manley, both out with injuries, watch the second half against UNC-W on Friday, November 8, 2019 at Trask Coliseum in Wilmington, N.C. Robert Willett

That has Williams and his coaching staff concerned.

“I think it is going to be something that we have to deal with all season, and it concerns us a great deal, but they don’t let you go out and draft, and there’s no list that you can’t take anyone off the waiver list,” Williams said Friday. “It’s who we have.”

North Carolina’s Justin Pierce (32) battles for an offensive rebound with UNC-W’s Mike Okauru (4) during the first half on Friday, November 8, 2019 at Trask Coliseum in Wilmington, N.C. Robert Willett

When Bacot went down, Williams had to play Justin Pierce exclusively at the four. Pierce, a grad transfer from William & Mary, scored 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds. He was 4 of 7 from behind the 3-point line.

Two years ago, when Pierce was a sophomore at William & Mary, he scored 23 points against UNC-Wilmington at Trask Coliseum. The teams are in the Colonial Athletic Association, so they play twice a year.

“I always love playing here, the crowd is always into it, and my teammates got me a bunch of open looks tonight,” Pierce said. “I was a little confident going into the game knowing that I was familiar with this arena and this conference, obviously playing here for three years.”

Junior Garrison Brooks also had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and freshman Cole Anthony had 20 points and 10 rebounds. But outside of those three players, points were hard to come by.

Brooks, Anthony and Pierce accounted for 72 percent of the Tar Heels’ 78 points.

Historically, Williams has had the ability to go deep into his bench early in the season. He likes to play nine or 10 players throughout a game, before shortening his bench at some point during ACC play.

It has allowed players like Brandon Robinson and Andrew Platek to step up in case an injury occurs or a player is struggling.

“You’re going to have guys who get in foul trouble, you’re going to have guys that get colds, guys that sprain their ankle, that kind of thing,” Williams said. “Got to have depth in this game.”

But the Tar Heels have been unable to do that because Sterling Manley, Robinson, freshmen Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis and maybe Bacot are out with injuries. Manley has recurring soreness in his knee, Robinson sprained his ankle in an exhibition game last week and Harris and Francis are recovering from injuries they sustained in high school.

Pierce, Leaky Black, Cole Anthony and Garrison Brooks all played 32 or more minutes on Friday. Over the course of 30-plus games this season, fatigue will be a factor.

The lack of bodies has also been a problem in practice.

Bacot is still being evaluated for a concussion, so there was no timetable for his return.

Williams said he does expect to get both Robinson and Harris back soon, which would help. He said he expects Robinson, who is no longer in a boot, to return when the Tar Heels play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament later this month.

Until then, though, the Tar Heels will just have to adjust.

“It’s something we’ll have to get used to, and that’s fine,” Brooks said. “We just kind of have to deal with what we have until guys get healthy.

“If it takes me playing 40 minutes to win a game, I’ll do that. “

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
Support my work with a digital subscription