CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Brice Johnson has been pretty consistent all season for No. 11 North Carolina. With a key big man out for a while, the Tar Heels needed even more from him.
Johnson had a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds in North Carolina’s 96-72 win over Tulane on Wednesday night.
Marcus Paige added 16 points and Justin Jackson had 13. The Tar Heels (8-2) won their first game without injured big man Kennedy Meeks and bounced back from a last-second loss at Texas that knocked them out of the top 10.
“That was my biggest goal today — just play harder, and stay out of foul trouble,” said Johnson, who was whistle-prone in the Texas loss. “With Kennedy being out, I knew I’d have to play a little bit more. ... I had to be able to step up.”
Joel Berry II had 12 points and Isaiah Hicks finished with 11 for North Carolina, which never trailed, shot 50 percent and built a 43-33 rebounding advantage.
Louis Dabney scored 18 points for Tulane (6-5), which pulled to 70-55 on Malik Morgan’s jumper with just over 8 minutes left.
The Tar Heels countered with 15 straight points — a burst that started with Johnson’s jumper, included two 3-pointers from Paige and made it a 30-point game.
“We were hoping to get them just a little bit out of rhythm,” Tulane coach Ed Conroy said. “For a while, it was OK. Then (later) in the second half, they got their rhythm back.”
Rebounding was a point of emphasis in this one for the Tar Heels, who managed just four offensive boards — their fewest in 13 seasons under coach Roy Williams — in the loss to the Longhorns.
North Carolina also didn’t have Meeks, who trails only Johnson among Tar Heels in rebounding but is out at least two weeks with a bone bruise in his left knee. Meeks averaged 12.3 points and 7.4 rebounds while starting the first nine games.
North Carolina gave 6-foot-11 senior Joel James his first start of the season, then turned Johnson loose on the Green Wave. He had 17 points in the first half — one more than his previous best this season — and surpassed his prior career best of 24 set in 2013 against Richmond.
“For a while, he was really a man on the backboards,” Williams said.
Johnson has scored in double figures in every game this season but never scored more than 16, hitting that mark four times.
Theo Pinson finished with 10 points for the Tar Heels.