UNC TURNS PAIGE
Freshman point guard Marcus Paige arrived at North Carolina with a reputation as a scorer. On Saturday he started showing why.
With UNC’s top three shooters either struggling or unavailable, Paige scored a career-high 19 points — eight in overtime — to lift the Tar Heels to a 72-60 win over Virginia Tech in a surprisingly close game at the Smith Center.
“Coach always says and I always say that I’m a good shooter,” Paige said. “But until they actually start going in in games you can say whatever you want, so to see a couple go down was refreshing.”
Entering the game as a 31.5 percent shooter — 29.9 percent from behind the arc — Paige hit 6 of 14 and 4 of 10 from long range, including a corner 3 that gave UNC a 62-58 lead two minutes into overtime. Paige followed with a baseline jumper, passed to Leslie McDonald for a lay-up and made two more free throws as the Tar Heels ended the game on a 13-2 run.
UNC (15-6, 5-3 ACC) scored on all nine of its possessions in overtime before running out the clock, recording its largest margin of victory in extra time since beating Duke by 13 in 1984 in Michael Jordan’s final home game.
UNC sophomore James Michael McAdoo had game highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds to post his third straight double-double, and four Tar Heels took turns holding the nation’s leading scorer, Erick Green, to 16 points (9.5 below his average) on 7 of 21 shooting, including a long airball over Reggie Bullock in the final seconds of regulation.
Still, Virginia Tech (11-10, 2-6) scored the first 12 points and UNC only led for 1:32 in regulation before Paige’s offensive outburst finally led the Tar Heels to their fifth win in six games.
Bullock, who is second in the ACC in 3-point accuracy, and Leslie McDonald, who was returning from a six-game absence due to a knee injury and a three-game suspension, combined to shoot 4 of 20, including 1 of 13 from behind the arc. Meanwhile, P.J. Hairston, who was third on the team in 3-point accuracy, missed the game because of a concussion.
That left an opening for Paige, who came in averaging 6.8 points but outscored Virginia Tech 8-5 in UNC’s first overtime session of the season and also finished with five rebounds and five assists.
“In the overtime, he was the most important player on the court for us,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said.
Williams also said UNC was fortunate to get to that point. McAdoo missed a dunk on the first possession of the game and the Hokies led 12-0 after four minutes when Williams used a rare early time-out.
Dexter Strickland finally got the Tar Heels on the board after the stoppage with a mid-range jumper, but UNC still trailed at halftime of a home game for the first time this season, 32-26.
Brice Johnson finally give UNC a lead at 46-45 on a tip-in with 9:29 left as the Hokies went five minutes without scoring. Neither team led by more than two for the rest of regulation as each struggled to execute down the stretch.
In UNC’s final five possessions of regulation, McAdoo and Paige turned the ball over a combined three times and Jackson Simmons, who was 8 for 8 from the line this season, missed two free throws. Bullock’s putback did give the Tar Heels a 55-53 lead with 1:25 remaining, but Joey van Zegeren made two free throws to tie the game with 46 seconds left.
The Hokies let Green dribble the clock down in regulation, but his long 2-pointer with four seconds left was contested by the 6-7 Bullock and Simmons grabbed the airball. McAdoo, who shot 8 of 12, gave UNC the lead for good on a jumper with 3:49 to play in overtime.
Strickland, Paige, Bullock and McDonald took turns guarding Green, who was held to fewer than 21 points for only the second time this season. The senior guard, who had attempted the second-most free throws in the country, didn’t get to the line Saturday and went almost 20 minutes without scoring, from the 16:15 mark of the second half to 1:30 left in overtime.
“It’s tough,” Paige said. “You know there’s no chance that you have to rest or regroup. You always have to fight him every possession because he’s a terrific scorer. To keep fresh legs on him the way we did, and hold him without a field goal for the last 16 minutes (in regulation) shows how hard we worked tonight.”
UNC 72, Virginia Tech 60 (OT)
Percentages: FG .387, FT .800. 3-Point Goals: 4-13, .308 (Green 2-4, Eddie 2-7, Brown 0-2). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 5 (Raines 2, Eddie 2, Van Zegeren). Turnovers: 14 (Brown 5, Eddie 2, Wood 2, Raines 2, Rankin, Barksdale). Steals: 8 (Rankin 3, Green, Brown, Van Zegeren, Raines, Eddie). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .375, FT .704. 3-Point Goals: 5-24, .208 (Paige 4-10, Bullock 1-8, Tokoto 0-1, McDonald 0-5). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 3 (Bullock 2, Hubert). Turnovers: 12 (McAdoo 5, Paige 2, Tokoto 2, Strickland, McDonald, Simmons). Steals: 6 (Strickland 2, McAdoo 2, Paige, Tokoto). Technical Fouls: None.