As North Carolina’s team bus pulled up to Lawrence Joel Coliseum late Saturday morning, Cam Johnson began to remember the last time he was there.
It was Feb. 22 , 2017, and Johnson was in a different uniform, playing for Pittsburgh. Pitt had grabbed an early 19-point lead over Wake Forest, but it did not last. Wake Forest stormed back behind the play of John Collins and defeated Pitt 63-59.
He said Pitt, that day, thought they had Wake Forest beat and it was a mistake.
“I kind of had that in my mind arriving at the arena, and I was like ‘I don’t want to lose here again,’” Johnson said. “It was a sour time.”
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UNC had no problem keeping its foot on the gas against Wake Forest and neither did Johnson, who transferred to UNC before the 2017-18 season. The Tar Heels stormed out to an 18-0 lead in the game’s first six minutes and continued to build on it. UNC (20-5, 10-2 ACC) beat Wake Forest 95-57.
Johnson was on fire. He made his first eight shots and finished with 27 points in 30 minutes. He was 7-for-10 from behind the 3-point line, which was a career-high.
He was also 4 of 4 from behind the 3-point line at halftime. Many of Johnson’s shots were open and some in transition. Each one felt like a back-breaker for Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons trailed by as many as 28 points in the first half.
“We knew what he was, going into the ball game,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said of Johnson. “We just didn’t do a good job of (identifying) him and taking away his airspace.”
It was a big performance for Johnson, who twisted his ankle in the second half of Monday’s game against No. 4 Virginia. When Johnson came out of that game with a little more than six minutes left, the score was tied at 55. He did not return until four minutes of game action had passed, and during that time period, the Tar Heels scored two points. He was not as effective when he returned. The Cavaliers ended the game on a 21-6 run and beat the Tar Heels 69-61.
But with five days in between their next game, the extra days of rest seemed to do the trick for Johnson, who did not appear bothered by the ankle injury at all.
When asked how he felt after the game, Johnson said he felt fine. He played that way too. Johnson has led the Tar Heels in scoring 10 times this season. The Tar Heels are 9-1 in those games.
“Cam shoots the ball great,” senior forward Luke Maye said. “He has some games where he rebounds really well and he’s just a really long and athletic wing for us that really helps us out in many facets.”
Johnson wasn’t the only player knocking down 3-pointers. UNC shot 16-for-25 from behind the 3-point line, which is 64 percent. It was the third-highest 3-point percentage for a UNC team in school history, and highest 3-point percentage on the road.
When the Tar Heels are knocking down their shots, they are hard to beat.
The Tar Heels have shot 45 percent or better from behind the 3-point line in five of their last eight games. They have won all of them.
“Two games ago, Coby was 7-for-10, and I’ve said all the time we’ve got good shooters,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We just need to make them in games.”
The Tar Heels shot 62 percent from the field overall.
Had Johnson made his eighth 3-pointer, he would have tied a team record for most 3’s in a game. Rashad McCants had eight against Clemson on March 2, 2004 and Dante Calabria had eight against Florida State on Jan. 25, 1995.
Williams tried to run a few plays for Johnson before he took him out, but Johnson did not break the team record. After he pulled Johnson from the game, he joked with the team that he did everything he could to help Johnson break the record.
“I called three plays in a row,” Williams joked on bench.
The team laughed and Johnson and Williams shook hands.
“I didn’t know there was a school record to be had or anything,” Johnson said after the game. “I just thought he thought I was hot so he was giving me another one. But I appreciate him doing that for me to give me a couple extra.”
No. 8 UNC is tied for second in the ACC standings ahead of its showdown with No. 2 Duke Wednesday night in Durham.
It will be the first of two games against Duke, and another opportunity for the Tar Heels to get a Quadrant 1 win. UNC is 5-5 in Quadrant 1 games. Duke is ranked No. 2 in the NCAA’s NET rankings.
Williams said the Tar Heels haven’t thought about that game.
“I told them our job is to try to get better,” Williams said. “That’s what we focused on doing. I haven’t talked about the other game. I still haven’t said anything about the other game.”