Johnson hung 26 points on the Blue Devils Wednesday night en route to a 88-72 win — North Carolina’s biggest in the series since 2012. His scoring outburst was critical in a 17-5 run to start that second half, a run that put UNC firmly in control.
A midrange jumper to start the half silenced the raucous home crowd — at least momentarily. He followed it up with a contested finish at the rim, another deep jumper, and a fastbreak finish at the rim off an assist from Coby White.
The play took UNC’s lead to its peak at 22 points. Johnson had engineered a run that put North Carolina firmly in control of the game, but not out of danger.
This was, after all, Duke. Though its star Zion Williamson went down on the first play of the game with a knee injury, Duke still has no shortage of talent. This was the team who just completed a sweep of then-No. 3 Virginia, and mounted a 23-point comeback against Louisville in the second half.
At first, it looked like North Carolina might fall victim to the same fate as the Cardinals. It coughed up eight turnovers in the second half. Duke was able to chop into North Carolina’s lead, cutting the deficit to as little as 13 points. But, as Seventh Woods put it, North Carolina "stayed poised."
"We knew they was gonna come at us hard," Woods said. "We work on pressure every day, so we just had to go out there and execute, really."
When Duke put that pressure on, North Carolina struggled. Duke's Tre Jones came up with a steal, but Johnson ducked under Reddish, came to Jones and swiped the ball out of his hands. The steal gave North Carolina another 30 seconds with the ball as the team held a 63-48 lead with 12:32 left in the game.
When White, a first-year, struggled against Duke’s pressure, Woods, a junior, played a valuable 13 minutes at point guard. Despite three turnovers, Woods looked confident. He finished around the rim twice and made smart plays in the second half.
Thanks to Johnson, Woods and North Carolina’s veterans, UNC held off the wave of Blue Devil pressure. While head coach Roy Williams was unsatisfied with a number of UNC turnovers — including a 10-second backcourt violation — he knew the Tar Heels took care of business.
“I think we weathered the storm,” he said.
Oh yeah, and Luke Maye had 30 points. Johnson and Maye, playing for the last time at Duke, went out with a bang. In a crowded but happy North Carolina locker room, Johnson reflected on the win.
“We love this,” he said. “This is why we’re here, it’s why we play basketball.”
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