After the first 20 minutes of the season against Oakland saw the Tar Heels
shoot 74 percent from the field and hit 23 shots, the first half Friday night was simply
an exhibition in bad basketball – from both teams. Poor shooting is the obvious
takeaway with the Heels making 27 percent from the floor while the Crusaders shot it at a 22-percent clip.
While a great shooting night can briefly mask obvious issues, 27 percent from the field
only begins to tell the story of Carolina’s first 20 minutes. Zero emotion, zero
energy and poor execution most accurately tell the tale, and one quote from the post
game locker room accomplishes the same more directly.
“That was the ugliest first half of basketball I’ve ever seen.”
The sophomore Johnson is animated. Like it or not, it’s how he 's playing the game this year so it
shouldn’t come as a surprise that those words above are his. And when he saw the
Heels trending in the wrong direction he, along with Marcus Paige,
turned the tenor of the game.
"My team was dead," Johnson said. "I had to do
something. I can’t stand playing dead ... we needed to play with a lot more energy.
“Me and Marcus are like brothers. We fed off each other out there. I dunked and
screamed and he said 'I feel it, lets go!’”
When the 25-25 halftime score morphed into a 35-35 game with 13:42 left, oddly
enough, it was a Johnson missed dunk that woke up the Heels. Seconds later, a
Johnson block led to a Johnson score. A Luke Davis steal led to another Johnson
bucket. Johnson’s rebound led to a J.P. Tokoto, pushing the Carolina lead to
41-35, forcing Holy Cross coach Milan Brown to call timeout.
“(Johnson) is somebody we feed off,” Paige said of the second half run. “ When he
gets a dunk or if he gets a couple jump hooks, he gets excited and we feed off that.
Brice does a great job of providing that little spark, especially offensively.”
Two Paige buckets sandwiched another Johnson field goal to cap the 12-0 run that put
the Heels out in front, 47-35. While Carolina settled down on the offensive end and
started moving the basketball, the Crusaders did just the opposite, going stagnant
and becoming a team relying solely on three-point shots make a comeback.
Holy Cross would end the game 5-of-22 from behind the arc and 29 percent from the field
in total. Not the recipe for a win against North Carolina, even if the Heels are
struggling to find that elusive identity.
“We tried to battle,” Coach Brown said of his team, “but when you’re trying to keep
those guys off the glass ... it wears on your legs. I think their athleticism and strength
kid of wore us down for how hard we had to compete on the other end.
“Two days ago we played a game where we scored 122 points, tonight we ran into a
For North Carolina, this game provided two clear points going forward.
team belongs to Paige. Leading the team with 23 points was only part of the
equation. His takeover of primary ball handling responsibilities down the stretch
allowed the Heels to execute with some semblance of efficiency in the second half.
And, two, to compete on a nightly basis, playing dead against anyone will not get
the job done. Johnson led the way Friday night with his second double-figure
output in as many games. If lessons are better learned in ugly losses, the 62-54 win
over the now 1-2 Crusaders from Holy Cross should be a shining example of that.