By R.L. Bynum

Garrison Brooks appeared to return to the form of two seasons ago in leading Mississippi State to a 75–49 opening-game home victory Wednesday over North Alabama.

Brooks started and finished with a game-high 18 points in 27 minutes, his best scoring game since notching 18 in the Feb. 24 Carolina home loss to Marquette.

“We can really get a lot better,” Brooks said. “We missed a lot of opportunities at the free-throw line. We didn’t make a lot of 3s tonight. We missed some opportunities in half-court offense that we normally wouldn’t.”

Brooks scored the Bulldogs’ first points of the season on a dunk in the first two minutes of the game. He finished 8 of 15 from the floor, 2 of 4 from the free-throw line, missed his only 3-point attempt and had five rebounds and one assist.

Also in the starting lineup for Mississippi State, which played an eight-man rotation, was N.C. State transfer Shakeel Moore, who scored eight points.

The Bulldogs played without two injured players in Tolu Smith, who led the SEC in rebounding a year ago, and Rocket Watts, a transfer from Michigan State.

“We’re going to be really good when we get those two guys back,” Brooks said. “They’re just good, veteran guys. They’re guys who know how to play. They add a lot of experience to our team and a lot more scoring.”

Brooks wore No. 10, which he couldn’t wear at Carolina since it’s retired to honor Lennie Rosenbluth.

Part of the lure for Brooks to play his fifth college season in Starkville, Miss., is that his father George Brooks is an assistant coach under veteran head coach Ben Howland. George Brooks, shown with Garrison below, is in his 12th season on the Bulldogs’ staff.

“[The first win was] something we needed to get under our belt,” Brooks said. “You can’t win the 20th [game] without winning the first one.”

Garrison Brooks averaged 9.6 points and 6.0 rebounds during his four-year UNC career, including 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in 2019–20 when he earned second-team All-ACC honors. His career-high was 35 points in a Jan. 4, 2020, loss to Georgia Tech and he scored 30 in a Feb. 25, 2020, win over N.C. State.

Brooks, who earned a UNC degree in communications last spring, finished with 1,276 points and 798 rebounds as a Tar Heel, the latter ranked 21st in program history.

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Mississippi State is back at home Saturday at 7 p.m. ET against Montana.

Garrison won’t face Auburn and former UNC teammate Walker Kessler until the teams meet in Starkville on March 2.

Brooks’ big game came one night after Kessler blocked five shots in an Auburn win and another former teammate, Walker Miller, scored 23 points in his Monmouth debut.

Photo via @HailStateMBK

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