ACC Basketball: Pack taught Paige a lesson
RALEIGH — North Carolina knew it would have to rely on Marcus Paige to develop the point this season. The freshman had a rough time in a matchup with one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best point guards in a hostile arena.
Paige finished with seven points on 2-for-11 shooting while being outplayed by Lorenzo Brown in a 91-83 loss at No. 18 North Carolina State on Saturday night. Paige missed his first eight shots and didn’t score until the Tar Heels started their frantic second-half comeback from a deficit that reached 28 points.
At one point, coach Roy Williams yanked Paige and put him on the bench alongside No. 2 ballhandler Dexter Strickland while third-stringer Luke Davis played early in the second half.
“He pulled me and Dexter for not sprinting back one or two times, and that was a big emphasis in the game,” Paige said. “So he was kind of sending us a message like, ‘Hey, you need to do what we’re telling you to do. Do you job.’ Stuff like that. It ended up working because we went on a pretty big run in the second half, but he shouldn’t have to do something like that to get us to do what he asks.”
Paige finished with four assists and three turnovers in 29 minutes. His shooting troubles were nothing new; he came in shooting 33 percent and has now gone 6-for-33 from the field (18 percent) in his last four games.
“I can learn a lot from watching the first 30 minutes of that — just trying to keep our team under more composure in a hostile environment and stuff like that, that’s my job as a point guard,” Paige said. “So I definitely can do better in that regard. But we did get some things going in the second half, and that showed what we’re able to do. We just can’t dig ourselves that deep of a hole.”
While Paige struggled, Brown had 20 points and 11 assists to help the Wolfpack end a 13-game losing streak in the long rivalry.
Freshman T.J. Warren added 19 points for the Wolfpack (16-4, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who beat the Tar Heels for the first time in nearly six years. N.C. State dominated much of the night, leading by 23 points before the break and 28 after halftime before the Tar Heels put together a second-half push that made things interesting the final minutes.
P.J. Hairston scored 19 points to lead the Tar Heels (13-6, 3-3), including four second-half 3-pointers that helped UNC slowly climb back into the game.
North Carolina cut the deficit all the way to 85-80 with 30.7 seconds left, but the Wolfpack hit six straight free throws to avoid what would’ve been a crushing late-game collapse.
N.C. State hadn’t beaten UNC since an 83-79 home win in February 2007, its only victory in 20 tries against the Tar Heels since Roy Williams returned to his alma mater before the 2003-04 season. But N.C. State — wearing all red — ended the skid with a performance that for much of the night validated its status as the preseason ACC favorite.
N.C. State shot 49 percent and Brown frequently had the Wolfpack out in transition, outscoring the Tar Heels 39-19 in fast-break points — an area that Williams’ teams usually have the edge. N.C. State also got strong games from C.J. Leslie (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Richard Howell (16 points, 14 rebounds) up front.
The Wolfpack entered the year as the ACC favorite for the first time since 1974-75 and had already beaten top-ranked Duke here in a rousing performance that ended with fans storming the court to celebrate. But N.C. State had lost two of three games since, falling on a last-second basket at Maryland then losing 86-84 at struggling Wake Forest on Tuesday night.
North Carolina had won three straight games since an 0-2 league start, but the Tar Heels fell behind by double figures in the first 6 minutes. They regrouped enough to close within four then watched the Wolfpack stomp the gas pedal and blow the game open.
With Brown running almost unchecked in transition and through the UNC defense, N.C. State blew things open with a 20-2 run and pushed the lead to 23 points on Warren’s layup with about 90 seconds left before the break. The Wolfpack led 45-26 at halftime and pushed the margin to 61-33 on Brown’s transition layup with 13:16 left.
It took the Tar Heels a long time to mount any pushback, though they fought back with a 28-9 run once the Wolfpack eased off the throttle to steadily chop into the lead and close within 70-61 on free throws from Paige with 5:22 left.
Hairston hit his final 3 with about a minute left, then James Michael McAdoo slammed home a miss from Reggie Bullock to close the deficit to five. But the Tar Heels got no closer, with Scott Wood hitting a pair of free throws and Brown adding four straight in the final 17.4 seconds to seal it.
North Carolina shot 61 percent after halftime after hitting just 30 percent in the opening 20 minutes.
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