Marcus Paige is arguably the most important player on North Carolina’s basketball team, but there is no longer any doubt who its best player is.
Brice Johnson continued his All-American-worthy campaign on Monday night, dominating Florida State in Tallahassee to the tune of 39 points, 23 rebounds, three steals and three blocks on 14-of-16 shooting from the field in the Tar Heels’ 106-90 win. It was the first 30-point, 20-rebound game for a UNC player since 1976 (Mitch Kupchak).
Johnson did everything for North Carolina on both ends of the floor. He threw down a vicious alley-oop early over 7-3 center Boris Bojanovsky.
He swatted away a lay-in and then stripped another on back-to-back to attempts.
Brice Johnson balling on both ends of the floor. #UNC pic.twitter.com/LcBC3OGIfF
— Jeremy Elias (@jelias_1) January 5, 2016
His best play of the night didn’t even come with two of his 39 points. He ran the floor in transition defensively, pinned a Malik Beasley lay-in on the backboard, corralled the rebound, then tossed an 85-foot outlet pass on the money to Marcus Paige for his sole assist of the contest:
His final play of the night was a steal in space followed by an emphatic two-handed slam in transition and a scream toward the Florida State faithful.
This performance is the exclamation point on what’s been an absolutely terrific start to the season. Johnson is averaging 16.8 points and 11.3 rebounds to go with a tremendous 68.5 true-shooting percentage that places him among the top 20 in the country. He’s already in the top 10 in defensive rebounding rate, placing seventh nationally at 30.9. And not only that, but he just looks improved on the floor. As a senior at 230 pounds, he now has both the experience and the bulk to take over games both in transition and in the paint using his tremendous athleticism.
Basically, every way that you slice it, Johnson has been among the best players in college hoops this year. He would be an All-American if the season were to end today. And with him playing like this, North Carolina’s ceiling is as high as anyone else. Paige and Johnson are a twosome that few teams around college hoops can match, and his athleticism and movement on the perimeter defensively has become a strong complement to Kennedy Meeks inside.
If he keeps this up, North Carolina is as strong a bet as anyone to get to Houston and the Final Four.