RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Center Armando Bacot became the first Tar Heel player ever to compile at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in a game as North Carolina (21-8, 13-5 ACC) beat arch-rival North Carolina State 84-74 at PNC Arena Saturday night.
Bacot’s 28 total points, 18 rebounds and five blocks stole the show, but another Tar Heel performer had his teammates talking.
Sophomore guard Puff Johnson came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points. His 12 second-half points were four more than his previous career-high for a game. Johnson was also averaging just 2.5 points per game before Saturday.
“Him just seizing the opportunity and going out there and knocking down those shots – it was great and I was proud of him,” Bacot said. “Hopefully he can continue on because we need the spark off the bench.”
A fan favorite, Johnson missed the final 15 games of last season and the first 15 games of the current campaign due to a foot injury. It’s been a long, tough road to get back on the court.
“I was hurt for about a year, I had foot surgery,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say I had doubts, I just kept my faith in God because God always has a plan for you. Throughout the injuries, I always kept a positive attitude.”
Ironically it was an injury to guard Leaky Black that led to Johnson’s extended playing time against the Wolfpack. Black went down with a knee injury in the first half and didn’t return.
“All the coaches were just preaching stay ready, stay ready,” Johnson said when they were trying to determine the extent of Black’s injury. “That’s been the focal point of this whole season, just stay ready because you don’t know when your number will be called.”
On Saturday it was Johnson’s number that was called.
“He got an opportunity tonight and he made the most of it,” North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis said. “I’m real excited about the game Puff had.”
Finally healthy, Johnson should see more playing time as the postseason approaches.
“He’s not bogged down by the noise that maybe some normal people (get) when you go in, how much playing time you get in, he’s just so thankful that he’s in and it just allows him to play free and play his best,” Hubert said.
Johnson was at his best against the Wolfpack and now he hopes that performance is a preview of what’s to come.
“My biggest thing is just bringing energy, effort and toughness,” Johnson said. “Every single minute I play and every single opportunity I get, I just try to do it to the best of my ability.”