When North Carolina graduate senior Cam Johnson stepped onto the court for his homecoming game at the Petersen Events Center Saturday, he did not have any butterflies. He wasn’t nervous.
“I just stepped on the court and it was really familiar,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who grew up right outside of Pittsburgh, had first played at Petersen when he was in the second grade. He played his first three years of college basketball at Pitt too before transferring to UNC last year. So coming back to Petersen, for what will likely be his final game there — with his family in the stands — meant a lot to him.
“I spent a lot of games in there, a lot of practices, a lot of late nights,” Johnson said recently.
On Saturday, he made a final impression, even as Pitt fans booed him every time he touched the ball. Johnson scored 15 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, had four assists, and helped lead the Tar Heels to a 85-60 win to open up conference play. He was 6-for-12 from the floor and knocked down three 3-pointers.
“After I made a couple of shots, they were really holding my wrist like this everywhere I went,” Johnson said, “trying not to let me get any thing.”
Freshman guard Coby White led all scorers with 22 points. Senior forward Luke Maye had a double-double, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
The game was competitive in the first few minutes, but UNC (11-3, 1-0 ACC) went on a 16-0 run midway through the first half to take control of the game. In the second half, there wasn’t much Pitt (10-4, 0-1) could do. It was one of the Tar Heels’ best overall performances this season, and it is coming at the right time.
With the win, the Tar Heels are now 4-1 in their last five ACC season openers.
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel III, who was formerly Duke’s associate head coach, has done a good job in his first 14 games at Pitt. But Saturday’s loss for Pitt wasn’t what it was expecting.
The game was tied 8-8 after Pitt’s Xavier Johnson scored on a fast break dunk, forcing UNC coach Roy Williams to call a timeout. The crowd was loud as they cheered.
Cam Johnson was also having a game. He scored his first three shots — two 3’s and a layup — in the first three minutes, quieting the crowd.
“I thought it was fun,” Johnson said of the booing. “I liked it.”
The teams went back and forth until 11:50 left in the first half. That’s when the game became one-sided, and the noise the Pitt fans once made, quickly dissipated.
The Tar Heels went on a 26-3 run over the next 10 minutes of the game. During that stretch, Pitt hadn’t scored a field goal. UNC went into locker room with a comfortable 45-23 lead at halftime.
The Panthers had a little more success in the second half, but still struggled. They shot 31 percent from the floor for the game, and never really had a chance.
“It was a W, we’re happy about it, and Jeff’s club is going to be fine,” Williams said. “They’re very, very, very young. And I did not sleep well last night thinking about trying to stop (Xavier) Johnson try to take the ball to the basket.”
When Cam Johnson subbed out of the game for one final time, with about five minutes left to play, he received a round of applause from UNC’s family and friends section.
Nearly 15 years after the first time he stepped on that court, in what was his last game there, UNC’s leading scorer played well.