CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In a game of questionable whistles, Brice Johnson’s emotions were on display as a trio of the calls went against the senior forward not known for his lack of expression.
In the final minute of the first half, Georgia Tech’s Marcus Georges-Hunt drove to the basket for a dunk, only to be blocked at the rim by Johnson. While it appeared both live and in replay to be a clean block, the officials called the foul nonetheless. Johnson was livid after the call, his second of the first half and the team’s 11th, as was the Smith Center crowd.
That wasn’t the only questionable call made by the officiating crew made up of Brian Dorsey, Wally Rutecki and Clarence Armstrong in the first half, although the external reactions by the Tar Heels prompted Roy Williams to address the issue with his players during halftime.
“It was frustrating, but shoot, that’s the game of basketball,” Williams said after the 86-78 win. “I was more frustrated because our guys started talking and thinking about it. I told them at halftime, I don’t care how many mistakes the officials make, they didn’t make as many mistakes as we made. And then I went through several mistakes that everybody made. I said the officials didn’t make that many mistakes. And when we think the officials make a mistake, what does the other bench think? ‘God, great call.’ It’s a hard game to officiate.”
For Johnson, the block call was one of two that tested his composure. The other was an over-the-back call which he believed he had inside position for the rebound. He also reacted to a charge call – his fourth - with 6:46 to play, a whistle in which Williams agreed.
Johnson, who acknowledged that showing emotion for most everything on the court is part of his game, told reporters he knows he has to stop reacting to officiating calls, but making that change is easier said than done.
“I have become a little bit better, but I’ve got a long way to go,” Johnson said after scoring 15 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the win. “I can still react a little better and just let it go… There’s nothing you can do about it after they blow the whistle. After they put your number up and they call out your name, it’s in the books and you can’t really do anything about it. You’ve just got to keep playing.”
Williams shrugged off a question about Johnson’s emotions by stating the obvious: “That’s Brice.”
“You guys have seen him for four years,” the 13th-year UNC head coach continued. “He’s demonstrative when I ask him what he wants for lunch. It’s just him… When a call goes his way, what is he? He’s demonstrative. Against him, like that? He’s demonstrative. When he dunks the ball, what is he? He’s not the little flower. He stands there and growls and pounds his dadgum chest like he’s done something. That’s him.”
Johnson fouled out with 23 seconds to play. That’s the first time he’s fouled out of a game this season.