It is probably a little dramatic to think the season was on the brink after just one loss. However there is always concern following a late game debacle if the team can bounce back. Couple that with the horror at the free throw line and it is not surprising that there was some trepidation about this game. After all, Richmond was a solid team with a good defense and something UNC didn't have: A win over Belmont. Needless to say, after a rough start, UNC responded well with career high games from Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson to take a 82-72 win over Richmond.
The Spiders opened up the game with a 10-2 run and despite entering the game shooting 18% from three, the Spiders hit three of their first four shots from beyond the arc. The Spiders led by as much as nine at 17-8 when the Heels went on a 9-0 run fueled the Paige-Johnson tandem to tie the game. UNC closed the half on a 7-0 run to take a 37-33 lead into the locker room.
UNC got off to a much better start in the second half and opened up a seven point lead only to have Richmond rally to tie the game. And over much of the second half it followed this pattern. UNC would extend the lead, Richmond would cut into the lead or tie it up. Every time the Spiders challenged, the Tar Heel that answered was Marcus Paige. The sophomore guard surpassed his career high from the season opener with 26 points and hit six three pointers which was also a personal best. On three different occasions, Paige nailed a three when UNC needed one, the last a dagger that put the Tar Heels up nine with 2:41 left in the game.
The other major cog in the Tar Heel offensive machine in this game was Brice Johnson whose 24 points was a career high and also registered his first double-double of the season by grabbing 12 rebounds. Quite simply, UNC is a much better team with Johnson on the floor. He is very active, brings an energy level to the floor that no one else can really provide. He is the most polished of the options at the five offensively even if he continues to be undersized in terms of weight and strength for the position. However there is no doubt that the Tar Heels are better with him on the floor with Paige and James Michael McAdoo. Johnson's play will also invite more chatter about why he doesn't start. However, there is an argument that the energy he brings off the bench is a nice boost for the team. Also, as long as Johnson plays starter minutes, it really doesn't matter if he is in the game at the start of the half. As long as he is out there when it counts, it will help.
The competitive nature of this game was probably the best thing for UNC given how the last game went. The Heels also shot 70% from the free throw line going 26-37 which should make the Belmont game feel more like a fluke than anything else. With the win UNC moves to 3-1 and will face the winner of Louisville-Fairfield at 1:00 PM on Sunday. In all likelihood it will be Louisville which will be a very difficult game.