Johnson scores 19, UNC beats Va Tech for 12th straight win
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) Brice Johnson and North Carolina are hardly worried about moving back into the top spot in The Associated Press poll. They're focused on playing better.
Johnson scored 19 points and grabbed 17 rebounds Sunday, leading the No. 2 Tar Heels over Virginia Tech 75-70 for its 12th straight victory.
With No. 1 Oklahoma losing to 19th-ranked Iowa State this week, North Carolina (18-2, 7-0 ACC) could find itself back atop the poll Monday, a spot it held at the beginning of the season but quickly lost.
''It doesn't matter,'' Johnson said. ''We've still got to come out and be ready to play every day. That's nice to have it (the ranking), but at the same time, we've still got to play. We've got a bulls-eye on our back now with that No. 1 ranking.''
Roy Williams earned his 350th victory with the Tar Heels and a unique place in basketball history, becoming the first NCAA coach to win at least 350 games at two Division I schools. He won 418 games at Kansas before joining North Carolina in 2003.
North Carolina, which is off to its best start in the conference since the beginning of the 2000-01 season, led by as many as 20 in the first half. The Tar Heels were up 57-49 with 11:01 remaining but the Hokies went on a 12-2 run and took a 61-59 lead on a basket by Kerry Blackshear Jr. with 8:05 remaining. It was their only lead of the game.
Seth Allen made two free throws with 19.2 seconds left for the Hokies (12-8, 4-3) to pull to 72-70, but Marcus Paige hit two free throws with 17.8 seconds remaining to push the lead back to four.
After Virginia Tech's Justin Bibbs missed a 3-pointer with 8 seconds to go, the Tar Heels' Johnson made one of two free throws with 6.5 seconds remaining for the final margin.
Zach LeDay led the Hokies with 17 points. Jalen Hudson added 14.
Six of Johnson's 17 rebounds came on the offensive end. The Tar Heels had 20 offensive rebounds and scored 18 second-chance points. North Carolina outrebounded the Hokies 48-33.
''I think that was a big part of it (the outcome),'' Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said. ''They have really good players, really tall, really long, really athletic - multiple guys that will play a long time on TV, and I'm sure that's one of the things that Coach Williams emphasizes.''
North Carolina's rebounding helped offset a day when the Tar Heels shot 37.8 percent (28 of 74) and made just 3 of 23 from beyond the 3-point arc. They have now shot worse than 40 percent from the floor in three straight games.
''We're not very confident right now, but some way, somehow, you've got to get some confidence,'' Williams said. ''For us, I've said you've got to be able to win the game a lot of different ways, and today, it was rebounding. That was the single factor that helped us win the game more than anything else.
''I was not concerned (about his team's shooting), but now I can be concerned because three games in a row is enough,'' Williams said. ''You've got to be able to step up and make some shots. For the most part, I liked our shots, but they didn't go in, so I didn't like the result.''
Berry II added 13 points for North Carolina, but made just 5 of 17 from the floor.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies fell to 1-4 versus ranked teams this season. ... LeDay has scored in double figures in six straight games and in 17 of the Hokies' 20 games this season. ... The Hokies made 22 of 32 from the free throw line and have shot at least 30 free throw attempts in half of their games this season. They lead the ACC in free-throw attempts (586). ... Chris Clarke missed his eighth straight game after undergoing surgery Dec. 29 to repair a broken foot. He was averaged 10.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
North Carolina: Led the ACC and ranked second in the nation in scoring offense coming into this game (86.2 ppg). ... The Tar Heels have won six straight against the Hokies. ... Johnson recorded his 11th double-double of the season and the 21st of his career. ... Berry II has scored in double figures in 11 straight games and in 17 of the Tar Heels' 20 games this season.
Virginia Tech: plays at home against Louisville on Wednesday.
North Carolina: is at home against BC on Saturday.