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February 6, 2014

Johnson coming into his own?

Brice Johnson is just trying to be the player coach Roy Williams tells him he can be in practice.

And Williams jokes he's going to kill the sophomore, "if he doesn't stop dunking the ball and then screaming instead of running back to play defense."

"I told him we were going to have a meeting - no, I told him I was going to kill him (...) and coach (Steve) Robinson said that's if (Johnson) doesn't do that to me first," Williams said.

But if Johnson's performances in the past four days are any indication, he's going to take heed in what his coach says, and he'll provide on-court evidence that he's done so.

The lanky big man had 10 points against NC State three days before his ACC career-high 19 points in North Carolina's 75-63 win against Maryland.

"I thought Brice really came through, he had his best practice of his entire life yesterday and I hope that translates into the rest of the season but he was really important to us," Williams said after UNC beat the Terrapins Tuesday night in the Smith Center.

For the substitute center - who also had seven rebounds and one steal, one block and one assist against the Terps - the Tuesday night performance was an answer to what his coach asks of him.

"(I'm) just trying to be the person coach says I can be," he said. "He says I can be a great player one day, I just have to put more effort into it. So I'm just putting more effort into it so I can be that great player he thinks I can be."

Johnson's personal reflection on his Williams-deemed 'best practice ever' cited the same inspiration.

"(I was) just running around, flying around, trying to do everything, just doing everything coach wants me to do," he said. "He said that's the best defensive (performance, tonight), and best practice I've ever had (yesterday), so that means I'm doing something right."

Johnson's ability to do things right against Maryland made him the third shooting option - to constant contributors Marcus Paige and James Michael Mcadoo - that has become a rotating roster spot for this season's team.

"He got in his spots," Paige said. "When he catches the ball low he can shoot over anyone. He missed a couple of free throws, but when he's aggressive getting to the line and everything, that gives us a post option, another scorer that can really help us."

"Myself and James Michael have been consistent scoring the ball and when we get contributions like that - last game it was Leslie (McDonald), this game Brice came up big for us - when we get those third and fourth guys stepping up, our offense is really clicking."

Part of what helped the offense click behind the lead of Paige, McAdoo and Johnson, was Maryland's tendency to play a small line up.

Fellow big body McAdoo said the switch to small usually allows him and Johnson to work well together.

"I think (mine and Johnson's) games - not just our games, but a lot of the big guys when we're out there together - compliment each other as far as the different lineups that you see," McAdoo said. "Definitely when we've got smaller guys on us, we've definitely got a good sense of where the other is on the court."

Before Johnson and McAdoo clicked to allow the sophomore to fill the third-shooter spot for the Tar Heels, Williams said he "jumped on," his players who came off the bench in the first half.

He felt the players he substituted in for his starters were not providing the team with enough contribution in every area of play, but Johnson answered the coach's call for bench help in his 13 second-half minutes.

"A lot of times they went small and we still had two post players in there," Williams said. "It was harder for Kennedy (Meeks) and Joel (James) and I think they had a hard time with Charlie Mitchell. Brice really picked us up in the second half when James Michael got in foul trouble."

For Johnson, shooting eight for eight from the field was the biggest reward of the night because it allowed him to have a confidence in his shot that he previously only has in his shot-blocking.

"It's great just finally seeing my shot go in there," Johnson said. "I've been working hard at trying to get my shot to go in there, it's just that they haven't been going in there in the past couple of games."

"So to see it go in there tonight is very good, it's a big confidence builder for me. It means that I know that I'm doing something right in practice."


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