Brice Johnson leads No. 15 North Carolina past Miami 73-64
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) The last of Brice Johnson’s five dunks was the most emphatic, and when he landed with his arms outstretched he froze the pose, as if seeking style points.
No. 15 North Carolina showed some flair that had been lacking of late, and took advantage of the 6-foot-9 Johnson’s dominating inside game to beat Miami 73-64 on Saturday.
Johnson had 22 points, shot 11 for 15 and grabbed 11 rebounds to help North Carolina claim a 42-28 advantage on the boards. His dunks earned an enthusiastic response from the Carolina bench and spectators clad in blue, who made up a sizable portion of the crowd of 7,972.
”Our fans are the greatest, and they travel well,” Johnson said. ”It’s always good to be able to give them something to cheer about.”
The Tar Heels had lost five of their previous seven games, and played like a team desperate to turn things around.
”This time we made enough winning plays to make the difference,” said Marcus Paige, who had 15 points.
J.P Tokoto added 10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals for North Carolina. Two of Tokoto’s baskets came on dunks.
”We like high-percentage shots,” Paige said with a grin. ”The guys who play above the rim like those shots, and they get us going momentum-wise.”
The Tar Heels (20-9, 10-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) reached 20 victories for the 11th time in 12 years under coach Roy Williams. They also ended a streak of four consecutive losses against the Hurricanes.
Miami (18-11, 8-8) lost at home for the sixth time this year, and lost to North Carolina for the first time since 2012. To reach the NCAA tournament, coach Jim Larranaga said, his Hurricanes likely need victories in their final two regular-season games and their first two games at the conference tournament.
”We’ve put ourselves in a very tough situation to make the dance,” he said.
Miami guard Angel Rodriguez, who sprained his right wrist in Wednesday’s win over Florida State, was held out of the starting lineup for the first time this season and played only three minutes.
”He tried to do it with just his left hand, and he couldn’t do it,” Larranaga said. He said Rodriguez might be back next week.
Backcourt mate Sheldon McClellan, the Hurricanes’ leading scorer this season, was limited to 25 minutes because of foul trouble and had 11 points.
Even so, Miami trailed only 57-54 with five minutes to go, but dunks by Johnson on consecutive possessions helped the Tar Heels pull away. Those scores came during an 8-0 run that put them up 65-54.
The Hurricanes missed five consecutive shots during their decisive drought. They shot only 43 percent, including 6 of 23 from 3-point range.
”That’s not good enough to beat North Carolina,” Larranaga said. ”We needed to make eight or nine 3s, and we didn’t.”
UP AND DOWN
Johnson had only four points in the Tar Heels’ home loss Tuesday against North Carolina State. Williams was at a loss to explain the junior’s inconsistency.
”I have no idea,” Williams said. ”If I could figure that out, we would have changed him three years ago. But he was fantastic today. Maybe it was the warm weather.”
North Carolina: Swingman Theo Pinson said he hopes to return for the Tar Heels’ next game Tuesday. He and guard Luke Davis were in uniform but didn’t play. Pinson has been out since Jan. 21 with a broken left foot, and Davis has been sidelined all season with a broken right foot.
Miami: Tonye Jekiri, who leads the ACC in rebounds, had seven in the first half but none in the second half. ”We wanted to have a big rebounding edge,” Williams said, ”and we thought we should have.”
North Carolina plays at Georgia Tech on Tuesday.
Miami plays at Pittsburgh on Wednesday.