It was the kind of performance that left people flipping through the record books, searching for how often somebody else had done what Brice Johnson did Monday night at Florida State.
Johnson, the North Carolina senior forward, finished the Tar Heels’ 106-90 victory with 39 points and 23 rebounds. Only twice in UNC’s long basketball history had another player finished a game with as many points and rebounds.
Billy Cunningham, an All-American forward for UNC in the early-to-mid 1960s, did it twice in 1964. He had 40 points and 28 rebounds against Maryland, and 48 points and 25 rebounds against Tulane. What Johnson accomplished against Florida State hasn’t often happened in ACC history, either.
According to Brian Morrison, a conference spokesperson, the league doesn’t keep an official record of players who have finished a game with at least 30 points and 20 rebounds. And so there isn’t a complete record of how often anyone has done it.
But it has been rare, based on how difficult it is to find a performance that’s statistically equal, or superior, to Johnson’s 39 points and 23 rebounds. In addition to Cunningham’s performances in 1964, Wake Forest’s Dickie Hemric had 41 points and 36 rebounds against Clemson in 1955. That same year, N.C. State’s Ronnie Shavlik had 49 points and 35 rebounds against Villanova.
39 Points Brice Johnson scored against Florida State Monday
23 Rebounds he had in the same game
In 1963, Duke’s Art Heyman finished a victory against UNC with 40 points and 24 rebounds. Johnson’s performance on Monday night appears to be the first of its kind since Cunningham’s 48-25 game in 1964.
By halftime Monday, Johnson already had a double-double – 11 points and 11 rebounds. He was at his best, though, in the second half, when he scored 28 of his 39 points and grabbed 12 of his 23 rebounds.
Johnson’s 28 second-half points came in a variety of ways. Here’s how he scored them:
▪ He scored eight points on four put-backs immediately after offensive rebounds. Of those, three were layups and one was a dunk.
▪ He scored six points on three other layups.
▪ He scored four points on two other dunks.
▪ He scored two points on one jump shot.
▪ And Johnson scored eight second-half points at the free-throw line, where he was 8-for-12 during the second half.
Overall, Johnson made 10 of his 11 attempts from the field during the second half. Five of those made shots came off of assists, four came after Johnson rebounded a missed shot and one, a dunk with about one minute left, came moments after Johnson found himself with possession after a steal.
Asked how Johnson did it, UNC coach Roy Williams cracked a one-liner.
“Probably Brice, the stars and the moon were aligned properly,” Williams said.
Perhaps astrology had something to do with it. More likely, though, Johnson simply happened to be “in the right place at the right time,” as he described it Monday. He often was in perfect position to rebound missed shots and convert those rebounds into points.
He did that repeatedly in the second half, especially, when the Seminoles, who took a brief one-point lead after trailing by 14 points in the first half, tried to seize control. Johnson benefited from UNC’s use of a smaller lineup, which allowed him freedom to roam and also provided space for guards to drive.
“We went small, there was a lot more spacing,” Johnson said. “I just attribute (my success) to great spacing on the offensive end for us.”
Johnson’s 39 points, which were the most any UNC player had scored since Harrison Barnes’ 40 points against Clemson in the 2011 ACC Tournament, were nice but Johnson was happiest with his rebounding. His previous career high was 17 rebounds.
Johnson’s 23 rebounds, tied for 11th-most in a game in school history, were the most for a UNC player since Sean May’s 24 against Duke in 2005.
And so while he kept scoring and set a career-high in points for the third time in the past three weeks, Johnson focused most – aside from winning the game – on the number that most mattered to him: 20 rebounds. He said he was looking at his rebound total “the entire time.”
Some of his teammates, meanwhile, looked on with a sense of awe. They witnessed something that has rarely happened at UNC and rarely happened in the history of the ACC, too.
“He went on a stretch where he scored like 15 straight points and I was like, ‘Yeah, this guy, he came to play today,’ ” Justin Jackson, the sophomore forward, said afterward. “We knew he could do that. To play and watch that happen, it was amazing.”