UNC 85, NCSU 84, OT: T.J. Warren did all he could, but it wasn’t enough
T.J. Warren’s words was barely audible after he exited a hushed N.C. State locker room Wednesday night.
Warren’s actions on the court did the majority of his talking and yet they still weren’t enough to lift his Wolfpack to a much-needed victory that appeared so close to its grasp.
A former Riverside High star, Warren scored a career-best 36 points, his seventh 30-point game of his sensational sophomore season. His two free throws with 1.5 seconds left in regulation allowed N.C. State to catch rival North Carolina and head to overtime.
He scored nine of N.C State’s 13 overtime points, including a free throw with 7.7 seconds left that gave the Wolfpack a 1-point lead over rival North Carolina.
But with a sold-out PNC Arena crowd roaring, UNC’s Marcus Paige broke the Wolfpack’s hearts with a driving layup with 0.9 seconds left that gave the Tar Heels an 85-84 ACC basketball win.
“He’s a great scorer,” Warren said of Paige, who scored 35 points to nearly match him. “It was a lot of fun. He made some clutch 3s at the end. He made the shot at the end.”
Despite playing with four fouls the final four minutes of regulation and all of overtime, Warren nearly made all the shots N.C. State (17-11, 7-8) needed to beat its hated rival.
His 25 shots attempts were nearly half of those taken by the entire Wolfpack team (they shot 62). Warren made 13.
After picking up his fourth foul while trying to steal the ball in the backcourt with 8:01 left in regulation, Warren sat nearly four minutes. During that time, the N.C. State offense struggled.
The Wolfpack had led by as many as 11 in the first half and nine in the second half. When Warren left with four fouls, N.C. State led 52-48.
When he returned at 4:23, the Tar Heels led 58-57.
With the game tied at 60, UNC converted two free throws on each of three consecutive possessions. Warren used his versatile moves to match them hitting a reverse layup off a baseline move, a soft shot in the lane and another runner in the lane.
The pressure of his foul situation fell away with the game on the line.
“I think he handled it well,” said N.C. State’s Ralston Turner, who scored 16 points. “He didn’t seem like he was worried about his four fouls. He played pretty normal. He did a good job of not picking up another foul.”
Said Warren, “I just wanted to keep playing hard. I was going to foul out playing basketball for my team. It was a great effort out there tonight.”
After a UNC miss with 24 seconds left in a 69-all game, Warren’s attempt to put N.C. State up was thwarted when James Michael McAdoo blocked his layup attempt. That led to a Tyler Lewis foul of Paige, who sank two free throws to put UNC up 71-69 with 3.6 seconds left.
But with 1.5 seconds to play and N.C. State attempting to in-bound the ball, UNC’s Leslie McDonald grabbed Warren trying to keep him from getting open. A foul was called and Warren sank both free throws to force overtime.
In the extra period, Warren scored the first six points to give the Wolfpack what appeared to be a commanding 77-71 lead.
His bank shot with 1:34 to play provided N.C. State with an 82-76 edge.
“I think tonight he was more focused on trying to take the game over,” Turner said. “He did that. We just weren’t able to come out with the win.”
But Paige kept scoring and Warren ran into trouble.
Paige’s 3-pointer and two free throws, sandwiched around one Tyler Lewis free throw, cut the Wolfpack lead to 83-81 with 41.6 to play.
Warren accepted the in-bounds pass as the Tar Heels threw full-court pressure at the Wolfpack. He was double-teamed in front of the UNC bench by McAdoo and Nate Britt and when the ball was knocked away, it bounced off Warren and out of bounds for a turnover.
“We saw them walking up so we knew they were going to press,” Turner said. “We threw the ball in before we could kind of get organized and I don’t know what happened with T.J. there. Obviously they called it out of bounds on him.”
After McAdoo tied the game for UNC with a basket inside, he couldn’t contain Warren on defense. As Warren attempted to get open on the baseline, McAdoo was called for a foul with 7.7 seconds left.
“The defense was really on me and playing aggressive,” Warren said. “The refs saw that.”
This time, Warren missed the first free throw before sinking the second to put the Wolfpack up 84-83.
Paige got the last shot and made it to left N.C. State feeling empty.