Paige still figuring out UNC's offense
Starting as a freshman in the most difficult position in North Carolina’s system, point guard Marcus Paige has taken some time to get acclimated.
After a motivational chat with coach Roy Williams last Friday and a stellar game the next day, Paige may finally be turning a corner heading into UNC’s matchup with No. 20 UNLV Saturday at the Smith Center (2 p.m., ESPN2).
The freshman from Marion, Iowa had recorded at least two turnovers in each of his first 10 games this season, but Paige had none in the Tar Heels’ most recent game Saturday against McNeese State, while also posting a season-high nine assists.
Expectations were high for Paige, who was anointed the starter before preseason practice even started. He became the eighth Tar Heel freshman to start his first game, joining a list that included Phil Ford, Kenny Smith, Ed Cota and Raymond Felton, but had an inauspicious beginning, getting no assists and four turnovers against Gardner-Webb.
After 10 games (he sat out against UAB with a strained left shoulder), Paige was averaging just 3.9 assists and 2.8 turnovers a game while shooting 35.9 percent.
Williams called the point guard over after practice Friday for what Paige called a “confidence-boosting conversation.”
“I don’t think I needed one,” Paige said. “But when you sit down and your coach tells you he’s still confident in you, it doesn’t hurt, it only helps.”
Paige realized that he was too eager to just run the plays as they were called, instead of using his talent to deviate slightly and get a better result. Now he has more faith in his own abilities, and said he’s playing to his strengths instead of trying to do everything perfectly.
“I tried to run the system exactly right,” Paige said. “But at the same time you have to be Marcus Paige.
“When (coach) gives us certain secondary options, I focus too much on running those exactly all the way through instead of just if I see an opening, if I see a play, just make a play, because the ultimate goal is to score a basket out of the offense. He told me be confident to divert from the exact pattern of the play.”
Perhaps it wasn’t unexpected that Paige got off to a slow start, considering how much the point guard is responsible for.
“There’s just so many things you have to think about,” Williams said. “You have to think about guarding your guy and dribbling the ball and who you pass it to and what set you’re in and what you just called and what defense you’re going to call. You have to think about your assignment and who is in the game.
“It’s a whole wide assortment you have to think about other than just playing the game.”
While Paige improved his assist-to-turnover ratio and his perimeter defense last Saturday, he’s still working on breaking out of a season-long shooting slump. For someone known as a scorer, the freshman is only hitting 35.7 percent from the field, the lowest of the 12 scholarship players on the team.
“I still think he’s a really good shooter, too,” Williams said. “The ball just hasn’t gone in the basket as often this year.”