North Carolina sophomore forward Brice Johnson feels like he hasn’t yet played a real game against Duke. As a freshman, he played a combined 12 minutes and was scoreless in two games. But that could be chalked up to his inexperience.
This season, he can only blame himself. Johnson didn’t have much of an impact during North Carolina’s 74-66 win over the Blue Devils on Feb. 20 because of foul trouble and eventually fouling out.
That game has been in the back of his mind as the Tar Heels prepare to face Duke on Saturday.
“It’s a lot of motivation because I know I could have really done a lot more out there,” Johnson said. “The first (game) I just couldn’t stay out there, every time I’d get back out there I’d pick up another foul and be right back on the bench.”
Arguably Carolina's best frontcourt duo is Johnson at center playing alongside James Michael McAdoo at power forward. Johnson scores more than the defensive-minded Desmond Hubert and is better defensively on the perimeter than Kennedy Meeks and Joel James. But Johnson's presence was largely absent in the first matchup with Duke.
Johnson entered the game at the 16:37 mark of the first half. Just 11 seconds in, he was whistled for his first foul. (Granted, Duke’s Jabari Parker would have probably received a fine in the NBA for flopping, but Johnson was called for a charge.)
Another 38 seconds, another foul. This time Johnson was a little too lackadaisical while receiving the ball so far out from the basket. Marcus Paige threw it to Johnson as a way to break pressure and Johnson seemed surprised that Marshall Plumlee still stepped out to defend despite being 30 feet from the basket. Plumlee stripped the ball and in trying to recover it, Johnson was whistled for a reaching foul.
With two fouls, Johnson sat out six minutes before re-entering the game with 9:09 left in the first half. Left isolated guarding Parker on the perimeter, Johnson picked up his third foul for a hand check as Parker drove to the basket. Johnson sat the remaining six minutes of the first half.
Johnson picked up his fourth foul in the second half after leaving Plumlee to attempt to block a shot. It led to three Duke offensive rebounds due to Carolina players out of position to box out. Johnson tried to stay out of the fray on Plumlee’s shot and a Parker tip before reaching in on Parker’s second shot. Johnson was on the court all of 2:04 minutes before heading back to the bench.
Johnson fouled out with 1:56 to go, again after finding himself guarding Parker on a drive to the basket.
Johnson’s five points against the Blue Devils snapped his string of five consecutive games of scoring in double figures, though he did manage to have six rebounds in just 14 minutes. The game and his performance leave him wanting much more when the Tar Heels travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday for the rematch.