Tar Heels Basketball: Brice Johnson helps push UNC past Virginia Tech


It wasn’t pretty but it was a win.

The North Carolina Tar Heels (18-2, 7-0) survived a road scare at Virginia Tech as they pushed ahead late to win 75-70 and stay unbeaten in the ACC. The win extends the Tar Heels winning streak to 11 games and helps them keep control in the conference. But it wasn’t easy.

After jumping out to a 20-point lead in the first half, the Tar Heels surrendered a 18-3 run to the Hokies in the first half and only led by five at the break. The Hokies extended their run in the second half and tied the game a few times, including late when they grabbed a brief 61-59 lead at the 8:10 mark.

But like he’s done so often as of late, senior forward Brice Johnson put his stamp on the game.

Johnson scored a layup on an assist from Marcus Paige to help Carolina tie it up at 61. Two possessions later, Joel Berry hit a three-pointer to put the Tar Heels up again. Virginia Tech would go on to tie it one more time at the 2:35 mark before UNC held on by hitting five of their final six free throws.

Johnson finished with another monster game, scoring 19 points and pulling down 17 rebounds. Berry chipped in 13 points as the two were the only Tar Heels in double-digits.

With the win, UNC stays in first place by 1.5 games and will likely move them to the No. 1 overall ranking when the AP Top 25 is released on Monday. The Tar Heels will host Boston College on Saturday.

Three things we noticed

Paige’s struggles

Marcus Paige continued to struggle from the field, marking the fourth-straight game. Paige finished with just seven total points and shot 2-of-10 from the field. Part of those struggles are from the three-point line in which he went 0-for-5.

Despite his struggles, Paige did make some key plays on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Late in the game he had a key defensive play in which he stole the ball, and then on the offensive end he had a few assists to Brice Johnson.

I’m confident Paige will work his way out of this, but it’s nice to see others stepping up when he’s struggling.

Berry’s impact

As mentioned above, with Paige struggling someone has to step up. We’ve seen Johnson do all he can to keep the Tar Heels in games and win them down the stretch. But he’s not the only one.

Point guard Joel Berry II has really improved his game. The sophomore has taken a noticeable step in improvement from his freshman year. On Sunday it was more of the same. Berry II looked comfortable with the ball and running the Tar Heels offense. He also hit a few key shots.

Williams reaches 350 wins at UNC

With the win on Sunday, head coach Roy Williams became the first coach to record 350 wins at two Division I schools. Williams has 418 wins at Kansas and now 350 wins at North Carolina.