Last year, it was Kenny Williams who gave UNC hot starts again and again, seemingly never missing from beyond the arc and starting big runs that his teammates then were able to continue. And while this became a bit of a sore spot for Williams as the year wore on and he eventually got that monkey off his back with a stellar 40-minute performance against Duke in the Dean Dome, sometimes a team needs that kind of player and that kind of performance to either create a lead or stay afloat. And for doing that in both of UNC’s games this ACC tournament, UNC’s Player of the Tournament is Cam Johnson. Johnson had 14 points on 6/8 shooting in the first half against Louisville while the rest of the team took some time to heat up, then absolutely torched Duke to the tune of 14 points in the first 10 minutes of the game while UNC’s offense felt out of sync all around him. He gave UNC the space to eventually catch fire and outrun the Cardinals, then kept pace with Duke all by himself for that first 10 minutes before his teammates started joining him on the offensive end to continue to keep pace with Duke, but unfortunately UNC was on the wrong end of that particular seesaw when the final horn rang.
Johnson’s stroke was as sweet as ever until the second half of his game against Duke, where he uncharacteristically missed 5 straight threes to finish 2/7 from behind the arc for the game after a 2/3 effort against Louisville. It was against Duke, though, that he managed to find other ways to score, including perfection on 5 free throws (one of which came on an and-one that made up the middle of a quick UNC 6-0 run late) and a few pretty drives. The best might have been his transition dunk exactly five seconds after a Zion Williamson dunk at UNC’s defensive end (how did Dan Shulman call this a lay-in?):
Johnson wasn’t able to lift his team ahead of the Blue Devils on this occasion, but he finished with 23 points on 18 shots (he was 6/11 from inside the arc), making him by far the most efficient of UNC’s three double-digit scorers on the night.
It was down to a metaphorical coin flip that UNC didn’t continue past the semifinals this ACC Tournament; there’s nobody to blame for a one-point loss to one of the best teams, certainly the most talented team, in the country. But as we noted yesterday, Cam Johnson was an easy choice for Player of the Game on Friday night, and combined with his adjacency to that honor Thursday, he comes out of the tournament as UNC’s hottest player. Hopefully the second half against Duke has got the rest of his misses out as UNC gears up for the NCAA Tournament, and hopefully he’ll get the opportunity for a much bigger and much more meaningful post-season honor. If he keeps up the pace he’s been on all season, it’s definitely possible.