by Emily Fedewa, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL -- Brice Johnson's energy on the court is undeniable.
He's been a big part of a short-staffed 2013-14 Carolina basketball team, providing an off-the-bench spark in the first few games of the season.
It's his emotion and energy—the familiar scream following a momentum-shifting dunk or block—that makes the sophomore forward so valuable to his teammates and head coach Roy Williams.
Point guard Marcus Paige calls Johnson's energy the "sixth man" that gets the rest of the team fired up—and that spark he delivers was what the Tar Heels needed in this weekend's games against Holy Cross and Belmont.
After a frustrating first half against Holy Cross on Friday night—in which the Tar Heels shot just 27.3 percent—Johnson knew his team needed a boost.
And he was more than willing to provide it.
"My team was (flat), I had to bring some type of energy to it," Johnson said. "That was the ugliest first half I've ever seen. We could've done a lot better if we'd just played with a lot more energy. That's why I brought some energy and things started to work a little bit more."
His contributions aren't just the intangibles, though; he also brings offensive production to the lineup. The sophomore combined his high-energy play with 12 points off the bench on 6 for 12 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks against the Crusaders.
"Brice is great when he hits the offensive boards," Paige said. "When he gets low position, he can make that turnaround jump hook, or turnaround jump shot all day.
"He's somebody that we kind of feed off. When he gets a dunk, or if he gets a couple jump hooks, he gets all excited and we kind of feed off that."
That excitement helped rally the Tar Heels to an 84-61 victory over Holy Cross and would once again prove important when Carolina took on Belmont Sunday afternoon.
Despite shooting 48 percent from the floor, UNC couldn't manage to find the basket on free throws, shooting just 9 for 28 from the line in the first half—a factor that would plague them for the rest of the contest.
That performance saw the Tar Heels head into the locker room at halftime trailing Belmont 41-34.
They would continue to trail until late in the second half when Johnson tallied two rebounds and four points to bring Carolina within one. That, along with his infectious energy, helped spur a 13-0 run to take the lead.
Johnson had scored in double figures against Holy Cross as well as in the team's season opener against Oakland a week ago and it was no different against Belmont.
He finished the game with 14 points, but said at the end of the day, he's more focused on finding ways to inspire his team to win and less on his own stats.
"I'm looking to help any way I can," Johnson said. "If I can score in double figures, that's good, but if I score four points and my team still wins, I'm fine with that."
Even with those 14 points, the Tar Heels couldn't recover from 26 missed free throws, and they would eventually fall to Belmont in the final seconds of the game for their first loss of the season.
Despite the loss, Johnson said there are positives and lessons to take away from the weekend's tough contests—including realizing the importance of his own role as a vocal leader for this young team.
"I'm going to have to become (a leader)," Johnson said. "Because this is a really young team with P.J. (Hairston) and Leslie (McDonald) out. So me and the guys on the court are going to have to step up."
Right now, Johnson knows he needs to step into that leadership position to help his team learn those lessons and move on to the next game.
"We lose one, we've got to just get right back up the next day and keep going," he said. "Can't let it affect the rest of our season, it's just one game. You can't change it, the buzzer's gone off, you just have to keep going."