North Carolina Tar Heels: Johnson brings team through FGCU

The North Carolina Tar Heels beat the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast courtesy of some hard play by All-American Brice Johnson.

The North Carolina Tar Heels got through their first game of the NCAA Tournament last night. They beat Florida Gulf Coast 83-67 in a game that was really the tale of two halves. The first half showed a determined Eagles team shoot 60% against a rather disinterested Tar Heels team and generate 41-40 halftime Tar Heels lead.

The seeds were planted for the second half in the first half. Florida Gulf Coast put three fouls each on their three key big men, which would prevent as much post coverage as they would have liked later on. Also the poor Tar Heel defensive effort would bring the wrath of Roy Williams at the half.

Marcus Paige opened the second half with a three pointer and the Tar Heels never really looked back as they went on to build a twenty point lead that only shrank when the game was well in hand. The second half saw a renewed Tar Heel effort on the boards and more scoring in the paint.

The star of the game was Brice Johnson. While his eighteen points and seven rebounds might look familiar, Johnson used eight blocks to rob the Eagles of baskets that might have gotten them back in the game. That included a couple of blocks on shots of players who had done everything right to find good looks. Johnson’s signature block was against a dunk attempt that Johnson ended at the backboard.

Joel Berry continued to provide steady play from the point with 14 points while Paige provided six assists for the team. Isaiah Hicks had some strong moves to get his twelve points, but he was one of the poor defenders of the first half.

One concern that came up in the postgame interview with Johnson and Williams was the play of Kennedy Meeks. It has been noticeable that Meeks has been playing with a lack of explosion on the offensive end. While I thought that was knee injury related, Johnson and Williams did not seem to know where that problem came from. If it is mental, then that opens new questions on Meeks and how he will play in the tournament.

The other major problem in this game was how the Tar Heels went through the first half. It was if the ACC Tournament had taught them nothing. Against a more talented team than Florida Gulf Coast, and they do exist in number in the Tournament, that could have created a hole impossible to climb out of. They are going to be tested early by every team that plays them from here on out.

Last night also saw the late squeaker win by Providence over USC. That means the 1 seed Tar Heels will face the 9 Seed Friars tomorrow for the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.