Johnson managed just four points on 1-of-6 shooting to go along with five rebounds in UNC’s home loss to N.C. State on Tuesday. That type of stat line may not have been surprising three months ago when the junior forward was mired in an early-season slump, but it was an outlier to his recent levels of production.
On Saturday, Johnson scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half as the Tar Heels pulled away in the final 11:33 after the Hurricanes took the lead at 48-47.
When asked what changed over the five days from the N.C. State loss to the Miami win, UNC head coach Roy Williams was honest and to the point: “I have no idea.”
“He was fantastic today,” the 12th-year UNC head coach said, “and he was a non-factor in the game on Tuesday.”
Johnson said the emotional key for him this week was relegating the N.C. State game to the past.
“I didn’t really produce for my team and I didn’t really help out,” Johnson said. “I’m a big factor to this team and I need to be able to go out and help my team anyway I can. That was the biggest thing I was able to do tonight.”
He was also more effective in creating space with constant movement. According to Johnson, N.C. State’s bigs won their matchup on the interior due to UNC’s post players being lead-footed in the paint. Williams stressed the importance of staying active in and around the lane in the practices leading up to Saturday’s contest.
“He did a good job of getting himself out of the paint in order to open himself up offensively,” junior guard Marcus Paige said. “Their bigs kind of stayed in the lane and hung out around the basket, so if he came out and set ball screens or pin-downs, then it created opportunities for him to be open as the roll man or the pop guy.”
Johnson set a career high with 11 made field goals on 15 attempts (8-of-10 after halfitme), continuing a production trend that’s been building in recent weeks. During the month of February, Johnson has converted seven or more field goals in six of UNC’s seven games.
He also pulled down 11 rebounds to notch his eighth double-double of the season, including his seventh in ACC play.
“He was relentless on the boards, which is one thing we love,” Paige said. “When he’s active on the boards, he’s really tough.”
Johnson is leading UNC in league play with 13.8 points on 60.4 percent shooting and 8.6 rebounds per game. He currently ranks second in league games in field goal percentage and fifth in rebounds per game.
Despite his performance on Tuesday, his confidence has remained high due to his recent success, as evidenced by his play at the BankUnited Center.
“I haven’t changed anything since then,” Johnson said. “It’s still working. It was just one bad game.”
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