NEW YORK — North Carolina needed a big game from its big man, and it got it.
Brice Johnson, a senior with a lot of promise but plenty of inconsistency over his career, had a career-best 27 points in No. 11 UNC’s 89-76 win over No. 22 UCLA on Saturday afternoon at the CBS Sports Classic.
Even more impressive for Johnson was how he unleashed a can and completely opened up/changed the game for the Tar Heels. First, he didn’t even score until there were approximately seven minutes remaining. UNC coach Roy Williams sat Johnson for eight minutes in the first half.
To that point, UCLA controlled the style (it was leading 28-19) and was getting tremendous production from junior Isaac Hamilton, who opened the game going 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
Message received for Johnson, though. He was as versatile and dogmatic as UNC needed him to be, especially with teammate/frontcourt friend Kennedy Meeks still out due to a bone bruise in his left knee.
The Tar Heels (9-2) opened up the game in the second half by scoring on 11 consecutive possessions. UNC went from a 58-55 to a 78-61 lead over the course of 6 1/2 minutes. It was one of the most impressive runs (from a team that knows how to go) in recent memory. On the whole, it wasn’t a complete game for the Tar Heels, but it was perhaps the team’s most impressive outside of its 89-81 home win over Maryland earlier this month.
UCLA (8-4) did well in getting four players into double figures, but 17 turnovers was too much to overcome as North Carolina converted a season-high 24 points off turnovers. Steve Alford’s team could not afford to get so careless against one of the four or five most talented teams in the country.
Joel Berry had 17 points for UNC; Hamilton led UCLA with 23 points.
The Tar Heels’ next game comes Monday against Appalachian State. UCLA heads home to play McNeese State on Tuesday.