SAN ANTONIO â While the point-guard matchup between Providenceâs Bryce Cotton and North Carolinaâs Marcus Paige has been the talk de jour leading up to Fridayâs NCAA Tournament contest, thereâs a frontcourt bout that could prove as important in deciding the outcome.
In Brice Johnson, the Tar Heels have an athletic 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward who is bouncy in every sense. The book on the sophomore is that he is very opportunistic and likes to get ahead of the pack. Needless to say, it will be important for PCâs collection of bigs â particularly Kadeem Batts and Carson Desrosiers â to not lose sight of Johnson when he gathers a head of steam and streaks into open space.
Ed Cooley admitted Thursday that the Friars havenât run across a frontcourt player of Johnsonâs ilk this season, hence why the head coach elected to dust off several game tapes from last season, most notably against Syracuse and Baylor.
âI think they have the fastest big man that Iâve played against since Iâve been a head coach,â stated Cooley. âTransition defense is probably 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D. When you play against North Carolina, youâre always playing against their transition.â
Added Desrosiers, âOne of the ways they like to score is in transition, so itâs been a focal point in our scouting. (Johnson) is athletic and likes to get up and down the floor. We need to keep him off the glass and run with him.â
Johnson ranks third on the Tar Heels in scoring despite starting just two games all season, his 10.4 points per game average trailing only Paige (17.4 ppg) and James Michael McAdoo (14.2 ppg). He tops UNC in field-goal percentage (56 percent) and is second in rebounding (6.2). He shot 50 percent or better in 21 of Carolinaâs 32 games this season.
âBrice is a big weapon for us. When heâs going, weâre a lot better as a team, especially offensively,â said UNCâs Paige. âWe need to establish him as one of our dominant weapons, especially going forward because heâs a tough matchup for a lot of people. If we get the Brice thatâs active and into the game, weâre going to be a tough team to beat.â
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