Post-glasses, UNC freshman Cole Anthony lived up to the hype. But can others step up?

It didn’t take long for North Carolina’s Cole Anthony to realize that the glasses he wore in Wednesday night’s season-opener against Notre Dame just weren’t working.

The 6-3, 190-pound guard had four points on 2-for-6 shooting, and missed his first two 3-pointers badly. One missed the rim and clanged off the backboard. So during a timeout, with about eight minutes left in the first half, Anthony ditched the specs.

“I think it was messing up my depth perception,” Anthony said after the game, “but when I took those off, something clicked.”

North Carolina’s Cole Anthony (2) sports a pair of glasses as he stands with his teammates for the National Anthem prior to the Tar Heels’ game against Notre Dame on Wednesday November 6, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

He then proceeded to drop 34 points on 12-of-24 shooting and finished 6-for-11 from behind the 3-point line. The Tar Heels won 76-65. By comparison, Syracuse scored 34 points against Virginia at home Wednesday night.

Anthony’s shooting was reminiscent of his predecessor, Coby White, who scored 30 points or more three times last season. It took six games for White to record his first 30-point performance. Anthony did it in his first game. He also set the UNC record for most points by a freshman in his debut.

Anthony’s performance was a long time coming, he said. The son of former NBA player Greg Anthony, Cole Anthony was one of the most highly sought-after recruits in the country. A McDonald’s All-American, he was ranked No. 3 in the Class of 2019, and the top-ranked point guard. His teammates say they admire his work ethic.

North Carolina’s Cole Anthony (2) drives to the basket against Notre Dame’s Nate Laszewski (14) during the first half on Wednesday November 6, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Anthony lead all scores with 34 points in the Tar Heels’ 76-65 victory. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

He’s always in the gym.

So when Anthony was asked about his own performance on Wednesday, he didn’t seem surprised, but more so relieved.

“I worked for this,” said Anthony, who also had a team-high 11 rebounds and five assists. “I’m happy to see my work pay off.”

Junior guard Andrew Platek said what separates Anthony from some of UNC’s past guards is his ability to instill confidence in others.

“Like when he passed me that ball, I knew I was going to make it,” Platek said. “He had the belief in me, and I knew I was going to make that shot, because he passed it to me.”

The only negative from Anthony’s 34 points was that no other Tar Heel scored more than 10. Senior forward Garrison Brooks had 10 points, Platek had 8 and freshman Armando Bacot finished with seven.

At some point over the course of 30-plus games this season, teams will focus on Anthony and he’ll struggle. In that case, the Tar Heels will need someone else to step up. That’s why they brought in grad transfers like Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce, who finished with five points each.

Last season, when White wasn’t on, it was Cam Johnson or Luke Maye who could score 20 or more points.

So far this season, that person still needs to be found.

Senior guard Brandon Robinson was supposed to be one of those options, but he sprained his ankle Friday in the Tar Heels’ exhibition game against Winston-Salem State and will be sidelined for a couple of weeks.

North Carolina’s Brandon Robinson, out with an injury to his ankle, wear a boot with his suit prior to the Tar Heels’ game against Notre Dame on Wednesday November 6, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

“If it’s needed, I’ll do it,” Brooks said of being the second scoring option.

Brooks, who is the leading returning scorer, was 4 of 7 from the floor.

“I think we need to get more out of him than that,” coach Roy Williams said.

Brooks was the primary defender on Notre Dame’s best player, John Mooney, who also finished with just 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

The lack of scoring options caused the Tar Heels to struggle for a stretch late in the first half and early in the second half.

Notre Dame (0-1, 0-1 ACC) led 37-32 early in the second half, before the Tar Heels (1-0, 1-0) went on an 18-9 run to take a four-point lead. Anthony scored nine of those 18 points.

North Carolina’s Cole Anthony (2) reacts after sinking a three-point basket to give the Tar Heels’ a 58-50 lead over Notre Dame in the second half on Wednesday November 6, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The Tar Heels never relinquished their lead.

As for the glasses, there’s a good chance that Anthony likely won’t wear them again.

“He can’t put them back on now,” Brooks said.

Anthony agreed.

“After tonight, yeah, I’m about to retire those early,” he said.

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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.
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