Bill Howard (in-line images by Howard and William McCormack)

As the Elis prepared their scout for Monday night’s matchup at North Carolina, associate head coach Matt Kingsley made an observation about senior Tar Heel guard Brandon Robinson.

Averaging 9.1 points a game, Robinson entered the night ranked only UNC’s fourth most prolific scorer, but Kingsley — who head coach James Jones said assumed responsibility for the scout — noted that the Tar Heels almost always win when the senior is knocking down his shots: UNC entered Monday 3–1 in games when Robinson connects on three or more triples.

Robinson ultimately set career highs with five three-pointers and 20 points Monday night against Yale (10–4, 0–0 Ivy), deflating bouts of Bulldog momentum with four threes in the second half, guiding UNC (8–5, 1–1 ACC) to a 70–67 win and extinguishing Yale’s seven-game win streak, all in front of 20,765 fans at Chapel Hill’s Dean Smith Center. Sharpshooting guard Azar Swain ’21 contributed four three-pointers of his own for the Elis — pacing Yale with a game-high 21 points — while forward Jordan Bruner ’20 finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds for his third consecutive and fifth double-double this season

UNC’s lead expanded to as much as 13 with 9:24 to play in the second, and though Swain narrowed it to seven with a triple that fell with just under eight minutes to go, he missed his final three attempts from beyond the arc, including a deep look that would have tied the game at the buzzer. The Bulldogs trimmed the deficit to three twice in the final 45 seconds of play.

“The kids battled,” Jones said. “They fought through it and made all the right plays. We had a couple threes [where] Azar Swain was wide open and didn’t knock [them] down. Those things are going to happen… It is not too often where Carolina is going to lose a nonconference game in this building. It just doesn’t happen very often. We were as close as you could possibly be.”

Jones, who said he was “really proud” of his squad, added that Swain turned his ankle during practice yesterday. Swain received treatment before the game from assistant athletic trainer Drew Moore. The 6-foot guard, who said he had trouble sprinting and jumping off of the ankle during warmups, wore a brace Monday night, but added that there were “no excuses” once the game had begun.

His game-tying attempt at the buzzer followed a steady comeback for the Elis over the final quarter of the game. Yale rushed the ball up the court after Tar Heel guard Jeremiah Francis missed the front end of a one-and-one with seven seconds to play, and captain and point guard Eric Monroe ’20 handed the ball off to Swain for the last-second look. He pivoted on his left foot before launching a three that fell short.

“It’s frustrating to think about because if I went through that 10 times, I would probably make that six or seven times, but that’s how basketball is,” Swain said. “You make some and you miss some. I just trust my work, and we have to move on to the next one.”

Though the Bulldogs never led in the contest’s final 15 minutes, they claimed an early lead to start the night. The Elis missed their first four shots to start the game, including three attempts from beyond the arc, but then Bruner knocked down his first attempt of the game from deep with just under 18 minutes to play in the half. Monroe, Swain and sixth-man guard Matthue Cotton ’22 all found the bottom of the net in the following minutes. Monroe drove for two on a layup, while Swain and Cotton — who led the Elis with a 41 percent clip from deep entering the night — converted looks from beyond the arc.

 

Yale’s early lead swelled to 11–2, its largest advantage of the game, but North Carolina responded, pulling off an 11–0 run that featured scoring contributions from four different Tar Heels. Referees whistled Yale four times within the game’s first eight minutes, and Monroe picked up his second foul of the game after fouling reserve guard Anthony Harris on the fast break with 10:49 to go. During the subsequent media timeout, the Yale captain ripped off his goggles in frustration, relegated to the bench with foul trouble. First-year guard August Mahoney ’23 replaced him on the floor, and the Elis’ assists leader returned with a little under six minutes in the half. Forwards Paul Atkinson ’21 and Austin Williams ’20 also finished the half with two fouls apiece.

Despite a deficit on the boards, three-pointers kept the Tar Heel advantage slim for much of the first half. Four of Yale’s eight first-half field goals came from deep, including two from Swain, and although Bruner had already grabbed a game-high nine rebounds by the halftime break, the Tar Heels claimed an 8–1 advantage on the offensive glass. They led 32–28 at the half.

Bruner matched his career best with 15 rebounds, but none came on the offensive glass. A rebound from Monroe less than three minutes into the game marked Yale’s sole offensive board, while UNC finished with 15.

“Everything that comes off the rim, I expect it to be mine,” Bruner said. “When I get rebounds, we’re able to push a little faster and get out in transition, so that’s my motivation most of the time… We’re just a little bit lazy right now [on the offensive glass]. It starts with me. I took a few plays off crashing the glass.”

Graduate forward Justin Pierce, who finished the game with three offensive boards, seven total rebounds and 14 points, said UNC head coach Roy Williams prides his players on crashing the offensive glass. Seven second-chance points helped the Tar Heels mute Yale’s second-half run.

The Bulldogs scored four quick points out of the halftime break, knotting the game at 32. Bruner finished a two-handed dunk on the fastbreak 30 seconds into the frame, and Monroe assisted Atkinson on a layup down low after the Florida native forced a steal on the previous defensive possession.

Swain nailed a three-pointer to give Yale its first lead, 35–32, in more than 15 minutes. Tar Heel guard Rechon “Leaky” Black responded with a three of his own, and although Bruner managed a layup at the other hand, his finish down low with 16:43 marked Yale’s last field goal until the 8:43 mark. Over an eight-minute stanza in the middle of the second half, the Bulldogs scored only two points, a pair of free throws from Swain with about 13 minutes to play. UNC capitalized, launching its second 11–0 run of the game to make the score 46–37. 

Robinson heated up during the run, scoring five straight points. The senior would hit three more triples in the half, each one coming on UNC possessions that immediately followed Yale scores on the other end, helping his side overcome the three-point shooting Carolina identified during its scout.

 

“They could shoot the ball, [and] they had two big guys who could do it at all,” Robinson said of what stood out during his side’s scout of Yale. “We knew they were a good team, and they beat Clemson. Clemson’s an ACC team and everybody in the ACC is good, so we knew they were serious and we couldn’t take them lightly.”

Yale entered the bonus with 7:05 to play in the second half, and stellar free-throw shooting on the night — the Bulldogs finished 19 of 22 from the charity stripe — helped them chip away at the Carolina lead. After Tar Heel guard Anthony Harris went down with a non-contact injury to his right knee with a little more than three minutes to play, Bruner finished a fast-break dunk to lower the lead to 5. A rim-rolling triple from the Yale forward cut the deficit to three with 45 seconds to play, and a Monroe and-one with nine seconds to play cut it back to three after five points and three straight free throws from Francis. His next attempt at the line missed, setting the stage for Swain’s last-second attempt.

UNC’s win marked the 879th career win for Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams — who teared up during Monday’s postgame press conference — tying him with longtime Carolina coach Dean Smith for the fourth most wins by a Division I men’s basketball head coach.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu