North Carolina players have mostly stuck to the script after defeats this season. They have spoken after losses, usually, about the need to play harder and better and with more effort and toughness. All of those kinds of things.
After a 79-74 loss at Virginia on Saturday night, though, Brice Johnson and Joel Berry went a bit off script. Johnson said he’s “not Superman.” Berry said he “can only do so much.”
Were they criticizing their teammates? Or releasing some frustration after a difficult, intense loss in a hostile road environment?
That Johnson and Berry were frustrated was to be expected. Johnson, the Tar Heels’ senior forward and a leading candidate for ACC Player of the Year honors, finished with 12 points but didn’t make a shot from the field during the final 18 ½ minutes, and attempted just one during that span.
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Berry, meanwhile, scored a career-high 21 points. But it wasn’t enough. He also had some difficulty defensively keeping up with Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, who led the Cavaliers with 26 points. Berry was speaking about defense, specifically, when he said he can’t do it alone.
Berry’s full comment:
“The other individuals, you’ve got to have that heart to be able to want to stop them on the defensive end. I can only do so much and I can just try to motivate my guys. But it takes a whole team to be able to do what we want to do. And if we want to lock down people, it has to be all five guys buying into one thing and finishing out the defense.”
It was interesting commentary given that Berry struggled at times to contain Brogdon in the first half. Then again, no one had much defensive success against Brogdon, whose size and strength made him a difficult matchup for UNC’s smaller guards.
Then there was Johnson. He finished with a modest 12 points – six of those coming in the first three minutes of the second half. The final two came on free throws with about 17 minutes remaining.
Limiting Johnson was a clear priority for Virginia, which double-teamed Johnson throughout the second half. The strategy worked. Johnson committed one turnover when he traveled while attempting a layup in the middle of one double team. Another time, he attempted to pass out of a double team and his pass landed several rows up in the stands.
“It’s not all about me. I’m not Superman. I can’t do it all. Just didn’t make shots.”
He didn’t take many shots, either – just nine from the field. Still, the Tar Heels were efficient despite Johnson’s limited contribution. They shot nearly 50 percent.
“Because we didn’t get it to Brice didn’t kill our offense,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We all want him to get more shots – there’s no question about that.”
Williams was frustrated, too. But not so much because of Johnson’s lack of production or because of the defensive failures that Berry was talking about. No, Williams directed his ire instead at his team’s failure to do the “little things” that ultimately turned into big things.
There was frustration to go around for UNC on Saturday night.