December 20, 2015

Marcus Paige's absence at the start of the season tested North Carolina's depth and gave others a chance to step up.

Now, Brice Johnson is taking to heart his increased role with Kennedy Meeks out.

The short-handed No. 7 Tar Heels play their second game in three days when they host Appalachian State on Monday night.

Paige missed North Carolina's first six games while recovering from a broken bone in his hand, including a loss at Northern Iowa that cost the Tar Heels (9-2) the No. 1 ranking.

Coach Roy Williams now is dealing with the loss of Meeks, who has missed the last two with a bruised left knee that will keep him out for an undetermined amount of time. Meeks and Paige have played only three games together, something that Williams hopes doesn't affect his squad's chemistry as games become more important throughout the season.

He won't have to worry much if Johnson continues playing at a high level. The senior set a career high with 25 points in a 96-72 win over Tulane on Wednesday before setting a new mark with 27 in Saturday's 89-76 victory over No. 22 UCLA in Brooklyn.

Johnson missed his first shot then made his last 11 while finishing with nine rebounds. He did all that despite being benched for part of the first half as Williams disciplined him for using profanity on the bench.

UCLA took an 11-point lead before Johnson re-entered with more focus. He said he was expressing his frustration with how he played at the start.

''It put a fire into my butt, and when I got back in there I was ready to go," Johnson said. "I've got to learn from that. Even my dad tells me the same thing, I got to change my language. Sometimes it gets the best of me. I just got to make better decisions when I'm coming off the court and not yell a profanity and saying things like that because I probably could have been in the game a little longer and got a couple of more points.''

Johnson's back-to-back high-scoring efforts have helped the Tar Heels bounce back from an 84-82 loss at the buzzer to Texas on Dec. 12. Joel Berry II added a career-high 17 points against the Bruins as North Carolina forced 17 turnovers.

''I like the way that we did get some turnovers out of our scramble stuff because we haven't done that very much this year,'' Williams said. ''I liked the way we kept being aggressive offensively (and) attacking.''

The Tar Heels shouldn't have much trouble getting their points against Appalachian State (2-8). The Mountaineers rank near the bottom of Division I in field-goal percentage defense with opponents shooting 47.7 percent and have allowed five teams to shoot better than 50 percent.

Charlotte hit 11 of 18 from 3-point range in its 82-66 win at Appalachian State on Saturday. The Mountaineers aren't helping themselves on the offensive end either, shooting 37.6 percent over their last three.

They're shooting 40.4 percent on the season to rank 10th in the 11-team Sun Belt Conference. Frank Eaves is their only player averaging in double figures and is averaging 26.4 points during a five-game losing streak.

These teams haven't met since North Carolina's 97-82 win Dec. 17, 2011.

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