“You’re not getting your feet set when you’re shooting,” Johnson recalled his father Gilbert saying. “Your feet are not in a good position, and your shot is going left and right.”
In search of a remedy, Johnson went immediately to the gym when the team arrived back in Chapel Hill from South Bend, Ind. He took shot after shot, paying close attention to detail on his form and on his feet.
Before the game on Tuesday, he arrived early for some last-minute shots with coach Hubert Davis. Then, he just played.
Johnson scored the second basket of the game for the Tar Heels that ignited an 18-3 run to start the game. But a few minutes later, he took a good shot from beyond the arc and missed. Were the shooting woes back?
They wouldn’t return, at least not on this night. He began to find his stroke mid-half, knocking down two 3-pointers to stretch UNC's lead out to 38-23. Though he was off to a good start, his best performance was still waiting for him after the break.
Johnson said nothing in particular motivated him toward a dominant second half performance. He was just playing basketball.
Out of the break, Johnson scored the Tar Heel’s first 10 points. He couldn’t miss, knocking down two 3-pointers in the first two minutes, splitting a pair of free throws, then sinking another from downtown.
His teammates could tell he was on. The Tar Heels' ball movement and selfless passing opened up the offense, and Johnson became the beneficiary of wide-open shots.
“Once we started hitting shots, it opened up everything else,” junior guard Kenny Williams said. “If we are hitting threes and hitting our shots, then teams can’t really help as much because you have one person surrounded by four other shooters on the court.”
Johnson was lethal — and he needed to be. After missing its first shot in the second half, Clemson connected on its next 15 shots, stretching into the last 10 minutes of the game. The Tigers had a 32 percent field goal percentage in the first half, but had a much improved 61.3 percent in the latter half, the highest field goal percentage of any team in one half against UNC this year.
In the end, though, the Tar Heels ended up just ahead of the curve. North Carolina shot 65 percent in the second half and 64.3 percent from three. Johnson, the leading scorer, shot 70 percent from the field in the fewest minutes of the starting lineup. He finished with 21 points, including six 3-pointers, to lead the way in an 87-79 win.
“I just figured you know, I was kinda due for a couple threes,” Johnson said. “I was tired of going one-for-five or something like that.”
In a night that could have been historic for another reason, Johnson took it upon himself to make it his best night as a Tar Heel. The scoring was second only to his 24-point performance against UNC as a Pitt Panther in the Smith Center last season.
The now 59-0 home streak against Clemson may end one day, but Johnson's fixed shot made sure that wouldn't be in 2018.
“Anything as historic as a streak like that is pretty impressive,” he said. “You don’t want to be the ones to ruin it.”
“Going out there and winning it was a big emphasis.”
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