Paige, Johnson post career-highs, lead No. 24 UNC over Richmond
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP)
North Carolina's Roy Williams was looking for somebody to step up after the Tar Heels first loss of the season a week ago.
Sophomores Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson answered the challenge on Saturday.
Paige scored a career-high 26 points and Johnson had another with 24 points to lead the Tar Heels bounced back with an 82-72 win over Richmond (3-2) in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament.
''Marcus and Brice certainly gave something we needed offensively because we've been struggling scoring wise,'' Williams said. ''We still made mistakes that gave me a lot of more gray hairs down the stretch. But hopefully we'll learn some things and take those kind of plays and not make them anymore.''
North Carolina has been playing this season without P.J. Hairston, who was the Tar Heels' leading scorer a year ago, and senior guard Leslie McDonald didn't travel to the tournament because NCAA eligibility concerns.
Authorities twice cited Hairston during the offseason while he drove rental cars linked to a felon. The school hasn't specified McDonald's issue, though it sent a letter ordering a company making designer mouth guards to stop using McDonald on its web site over the summer.
Without the pair, North Carolina (3-1) lost a jaw-dropper to Belmont a week ago, 83-80.
The Tar Heels also trailed for much of the first half against Richmond, and were up 66-62 with just under 4 minutes to play when the Spiders' Terry Allen picked up his fourth foul.
But Johnson hit a put-back that started the run that gave the Tar Heels control of the game.
A 3-pointer by Paige made it 71-62 and North Carolina held on down the stretch.
''The coaches keep telling me I've got to be more aggressive and attack from the perimeter,'' he said. ''It's just something I have to do. I'm starting to feel more comfortable with it.''
Cedrick Lindsay scored 29 points for Richmond. Kendall Anthony added 13.
''There was a couple loose balls and a couple of offensive rebounds that they went up and got them, and that was the difference,'' Lindsay said.
North Carolina will play the winner of Saturday's second semifinal between No. 3 Louisville and Fairfield in Sunday's final.
Paige scored 16 of his points in the second half and was 6 of 9 from 3-point range. The rest of the Tar Heels were 0 for 4.
Johnson added 12 rebounds, giving the sophomore his first career double-double.
Richmond jumped out quickly scoring 10 of the games' first 12 points.
The Tar Heels chipped away, tying the game on a jumper by Johnson midway through the first half, but they didn't take their first lead until just before intermission.
Johnson's emphatic block, and two-handed dunk at the other end sparked an 8-0 that gave UNC a 38-33 advantage early in the second half.
''I've been doing that all season,'' Johnson said. ''You've got to do it. If that's what they need me to do, I'm going to come off the bench and I'm going to bring it.''
They stretched that lead to seven early in the second half before Richmond came back. Lindsay's runner in the lane tied the game at 51, and the teams were tied again at 56 on a 3-pointer by Anthony.
But another 3-pointer by Paige stopped the Spiders' momentum.
North Carolina dropped from 12th to 24th in the AP Poll after falling 83-80 to Belmont, the first loss by the Tar Heels to an unranked non-conference opponent at home since February, 2002. The Tar Heels missed 26 free throws in that game.
They were 26 of 37 against Richmond. The teams combined for 50 fouls.
Richmond was coming off a 74-63 overtime win against Hofstra. The Spiders beat Belmont 69-61 on Nov. 11 in Richmond.
Carolina has now beaten Richmond in 15 of their 17 meetings. But the two teams hadn't played since 1997.