The great thing about Cam Johnson this season, besides the ridiculous year he’s been having from behind the arc, has been that he doesn’t even need to be making three-pointers in order to be effective. Against Notre Dame, for example, despite missing all 3 of his three-point attempts, Johnson was active and effective, with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. He’s been an effective scorer and improved rebounder and defender, meaning that he has had tremendous value even outside his shooting. But that doesn’t mean shooting isn’t still his best trait, as he was a legitimate (and stunning) 49% shooter from distance. And there was clearly something missing from UNC’s last two games, when he combined to shoot 0-7 from distance.
Some positive regression was due for this contest at Miami, right?
Well, it definitely worked out that way. Johnson broke out of any slump he might have been suffering with a 22-point, 7-rebound performance where he made 5 out of his 7 three-pointers. Forced to play extended minutes due to foul trouble limiting both Nassir Little and Luke Maye, Johnson responded admirably. In his 35 minutes, he never showed signs of slowing down, remaining active on both ends of the floor and never fatiguing. In fact, he saved his best moments for crunch time, which cemented his spot as our player of the game.
With just under 11 minutes left, Johnson hit a three to extend the UNC lead to 9, the biggest it had been to that point. Then things started going wrong: Chris Lykes answered with a three, a turnover led to a Miami free throw, then, after Kenny Williams found Luke Maye for a layup, Lykes and Ebuka Izundu responded with three close-range buckets of their own, meaning Miami was on a 6-0 run, and with under 7 minutes left, were down just 1, 63-62. The UNC offense looked discombobulated, but then, Johnson received a pass from Brandon Robinson on the left corner, a good Leaky Black screen setting him up, and drained a three-pointer immediately to give the Heels some breathing room. Ezundu wasn’t done, and finished through contact for an and-1 to get his team back within 1. Off another Robinson assist, this one to the right corner, Johnson responded in exactly the same way, and this did just enough to nullify any run Miami had plans on making.
And if that surge wasn’t enough, Johnson then helped salt the game away with less than 4 minutes left, assisting fellow senior Kenny Williams on a pick-and-pop three from the left wing that put the Heels up 8, a margin which pretty much held steady for the rest of the game. For both overall statistical excellence and his clutch execution, Johnson is our player of the game. This is the Johnson we’ve been seeing since the beginning of the season, and the Johnson we need to see if UNC is to compete for the ACC title and make some noise in March.
I should give an honorable mention to Kenny Williams for an ultra-efficient offensive day in which he shot 6/9 from the field (3/5 from deep), scoring 16 points, and added 7 assists to a season where he’s been a stellar distributor. He’s got 72 assists and just 30 turnovers on the season for an almost 2.5:1 ratio.