If the North Carolina Tar Heels are a bunch of “nice guys,” you can go ahead and exclude Brice Johnson from that group.
After every dunk and block he sends back – or in Saturday’s case, a block he sent flying into the second row of the press table – he clinches his fists, screams out and wears a snarl on his face. He gets angrier and angrier.
“That’s Brice,” senior guard Marcus Paige said. “That’s him. He’s been doing that all year. When he makes an energy play, it gets all of us excited and gets us going.”
Sometimes after big plays Johnson will stare down the opponent he just embarrassed or say a few words. He’ll throw his hands in the air to pump up the crowd.
The crowd reacts and screams with him.
Even those on Twitter recognized it Saturday. There was a hashtag during the game called #angryBrice, where many tweeted that “an #angryBrice is the best Brice.”
That emotion, intensity and personal anger on the court, is what motivates Johnson.
“It kind of refocuses himself on the game because sometimes he gets all crazy,” Paige said with a smile.
He did it Thursday against the No. 16 seed Florida Gulf Coast, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds and eight blocked shots.
And Saturday he did it again against No. 9 seeded Providence, leading the team with 21 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Energy is what the Tar Heels needed against Providence. The game started slow, marked by four missed shots from UNC and a turnover in the first two minutes of the game.
On one of the turnovers, the ball found its way to UNC coach Roy Williams, who grabbed it, slammed it to the ground and yelled out to his players, “Wake up!”
Johnson answered the call. He got mad at himself. He clenched his fist, wore the snarl and yelled out.
Johnson can’t explain why his anger helps him play better. But he enjoys when he and another player, like Ben Bentil, Providence’s leading scorer this past season, can talk trash back and forth to each other.
“Coaches seem to say I play a little bit better when I’m mad,” Johnson said. “It helps. I like to play with a lot of emotion, and that’s how I play.”
Williams agreed that Johnson plays well when he has intensity. However, he said if you poll the players in the locker room, Johnson wouldn’t be voted the most intense player on the team.
“He’s really intense when he blocks a shot and it goes into the 12th row,” Williams said. “He’s really intense when he dunks, and it usually comes because he’s growling so hard.”
“But he’s gotten better defensively himself.”
He credited Johnson’s shot blocking ability and defensive rebounding. While UNC was out rebounded by Florida Gulf Coast Thursday, the Tar Heels out rebounded Providence Saturday, 42-24.
And Williams said that is because of Johnson’s improvement.
“You know, he’s a comedian half the time, but he’s accomplished some big-time things,” Williams said. “And he’s, like I said the other day, maybe more from start to finish, more improvement than any player I’ve ever coached.”