North Carolina pulled out an 82-72 win against the Richmond Spiders on Saturday. It took two career highs from two players, but the Tar Heels got the job done. UNC executed late in the game, played solid defense, and made free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson continue to step up:
Marcus Paige set a new career high of 26 points on 6-9 3pt shooting and 8-9 from the free throw line. Time after time when Richmond got close or tied it up in the second half, Paige countered with another made three point shot. He also grabbed 5 rebounds and dished out 3 assists. Paige is continuing to develop into the alpha dog UNC needs. Brice Johnson set a career high of 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Brice is continuing to assert himself on the offensive end and is taking it upon himself to score when the Heels need it. Brice is developing into a guy the Tar Heels can look to when they need a bucket. Brice plays with heart and plays hard. Brice had a block on the defensive end, the Heels secured the ball, and then passed it to Johnson and scored a bucket, who was already sprinting down court. It will only be a matter of time before Johnson is in the starting lineup. Lets just hope this does not turn into a PJ Hairston situation like last year.
Defense is key to the pace of the game for the Tar Heels. Near the end of the first half, the Tar Heels began to play tough perimeter defense which led to blocked shots and fast break opportunities. Roy Williams even switched to a 3-2 zone with JP Tokoto at the front of the zone to contest perimeter passes. Carolina did not defend the 3 point line well early game, as Richmond hit 3 of its first 4 from beyond the arc. After those first 4, Richmond only shot 3-16 from 3 for the rest of the game. Credit the Heels for adjusting and defending well. The defense played late in the first half sparked the Heels on a run to take the lead at halftime. The defense had 9 steals, 6 blocks, and caused 17 turnovers.
North Carolina went 26-37 from the free throw line. That is 70.7%, which is much better than the 22-48 line against Belmont. Richmond began to foul late, hoping UNC would begin to miss their free throws at the end of the game. That was not the case today. The Tar Heels made their free throws when they counted the most and secured the win. 26-37 from the line is an improvement, but there is still much more room for improvement. Leaving 11 free points at the line is too much.
“PJ Hairston” Situation
This is not the on going issues off the court for Hairston. This situation is what happened last year, when a player who is coming off of the bench is producing extremely well but is not getting into the starting lineup or getting starters minutes. This happened with PJ Hairston last year, and it seems to be happening with Brice Johnson this season. At what point does Roy realize that Joel James and Kennedy Meeks are simply not ready to be a starter at the 5? Does Roy take until halfway through conference play to start Johnson? This will be another story line to watch as the season goes on. Johnson is now averaging 15 points and 7.7 rebounds in only 19.8 minutes. He is shooting 60% from the field.
The Tar Heels fought back and took this game, as they should have. Next up is Louisville.