Break-even ACC mark isn't nearly good enough for Tar Heels

Feb. 01, 2014 @ 10:45 PM

After starting 1-4 in the ACC for just the second time in school history, North Carolina got back to .500 with an 84-70 win Saturday against N.C. State.

But while the recent three-game winning streak has moved the Tar Heels (14-7, 4-4) out of last place in the conference, sophomore point guard Marcus Paige said the team isn’t satisfied.

“It’s definitely a little bit of a relief to not be in the cellar, I guess, but this isn’t where our goals are,” point guard Marcus Paige said. “Our goals aren’t to be a middle of the pack ACC team, and I think we have enough time and enough games to make a run to try to chase some of the teams up at the top and just try to get back into contention.

“Those were our goals we set, so it’s satisfying but definitely not something we’re happy and complacent with.”

UNC has helped turn its conference season around by becoming more productive offensively. After averaging 56.3 points during their 0-3 start, the Tar Heels have scored 77.0 points in their last five games, and Saturday’s 84 was the most they’ve posted in an ACC game so far.

One key has been senior Leslie McDonald, who put up his first 20-point game of the season against N.C. State. McDonald is still struggling with his outside shot — he was 2 for 7 from behind the arc Saturday and is shooting 26 percent from 3-point range in the ACC — but the senior has been more willing to drive to the basket recently.

Though his attempt at dunking didn’t work, Paige though it was a positive sign.

“It’s good to see him in that aggressive mindset,” Paige said. “It’s good to have a third and fourth guy in the lineup who can have a night like this.”

McDonald’s emergence has been an important factor for a team that was forced to rely on Paige and James Michael McAdoo for most of the offense early on.

Brice Johnson (10 points, seven rebounds) also reached double figures for the first time in six games and freshman center Kennedy Meeks (eight points, 10 rebounds) continued to solidify his spot in the starting lineup, providing more hope that UNC can continue its recent run. The Tar Heels host Maryland Tuesday night (8 p.m., WRAL) and then travel to Notre Dame Saturday (noon, WRAL) before facing Duke at the Smith Center.

“We’re having more fun, we’re working harder in practice,” Paige said. “Everything’s starting to click.”