SAN ANTONIO — Before the time of North Carolina’s date with No. 3 seed Iowa State was set, news of Cyclones forward Georges Niang’s fractured foot dominated headlines Friday night.
It was a shocking season-ending injury that seemingly reduced Iowa State’s chances of making the Sweet Sixteen.
But with fewer than four minutes gone in Sunday evening’s game, another injury, this one to a player in Carolina Blue, changed the course of UNC’s 85-83 NCAA Tournament third round loss to Iowa State (28-7).
With fewer than 15 minutes to play in the first half, sophomore Brice Johnson leapt up to rebound a missed UNC (24-10) shot. As he landed, he hit the top of Cyclone forward Dustin Hogue’s shoe; his foot went one way, his ankle another.
Johnson corralled the rebound and passed it out to Marcus Paige, hopping up and down on his left foot to avoid putting weight on his injured right. After Leslie McDonald drained a 3-pointer, Johnson tried to run the length of the floor with his teammates, but he simply couldn’t stay in the game. When play ended under Iowa State’s basket, Johnson hobbled across the baseline in front of athletic trainer Doug Halverson and collapsed to his knees.
As coach Roy Williams and Halverson went over to check on him, Johnson banged his left foot against the hardwood in pain. He gingerly started to get up move toward the bench. The 6-foot-9 forward was moving slowly, grimacing with every ounce of weight he put on his right ankle.
Johnson eventually limped back to the locker room with Halverson.
Diagnosed with a sprained ankle, he wouldn’t return — his impact in the year’s last game limited to two points, two rebounds, one foul in two minutes.
“It was tough,” McDonald said. “We were expecting big things out of Brice. He contributes to the offensive board and defensive boards and scoring, too. We were looking for big things.