Tag Archives: Marcus Paige

Paige gets Iowa homecoming

DURHAM — Marcus Paige finally got a homecoming game after all.

It might be called the Carolina ACC Barnstorming Tour, but Friday, the group of ACC senior all-stars left the state for a quick trip to Marion, Iowa to play at Linn-Mar high school, Paige’s alma mater, Saturday.

“I think they mentioned it to me at the beginning of the year,” Paige said after a barnstorming stop at Durham’s Northern High School. “I was like, ‘that sounds like a good idea,’ and then I kind of forgot about it until the schedule came out and my high school was on there. I was like, cool. I was pretty excited about it.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams tried to give Paige a homecoming game during the season when he scheduled a trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa to play Northern Iowa Nov. 22, 2015. But when Paige broke his right hand in an early November practice, he was sidelined for a month and missed his chance to play in front of a hometown crowd.

Thanks to an uncharacteristic trip outside state lines with the barnstorming tour — an ACC tradition that originated in North Carolina 37 years ago — Paige has another chance to not only play in Iowa, but to play in his old gym for the first time since he wrapped up his senior season four years ago.

“I’m just happy I get to go home and see my family, see my dogs,” Paige said.

Paige, Brice Johnson, Joel James, Tony Ebunga, Spenser Dalton and Justin Coleman have played with the group of seniors from UNC, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest coached by Phil Ford who are stopping at nine North Carolina high schools.

Every player doesn’t travel to every stop, but all six Tar Heels played against a group of locals in front of a very pro-UNC crowd in Durham last week.

“There’s a lot of support,” Paige said. “We’ve been to some towns and stuff and seen a lot of people who might not get a chance to come to a game. So Tar Heel nation is out here, and it’s very fun to see everyone and travel the state, especially because I’m not from here.”

After five stops in places like Rockingham and Ronda, Paige got a chance to not only go back to his home state, but also act as a tour guide for a couple of his former UNC teammates who had never been to Iowa.

“It’s too far away, none of them will come all the way to Iowa,” Paige said. “It’s hard to convince someone to come to Iowa. It’s not necessarily a tourist location or anything like that. It’s not a tropical climate, but it’s a good place and I’m happy they’re coming with me this time.”

North Carolina comes up a ‘half-step’ short in national title game

HOUSTON — For the last time in his career, Marcus Paige walked through the North Carolina locker room, still wearing his white No. 5 uniform.

As he walked, the cameras followed in a silent procession, cutting through a room that was void of the carefree laughter that filled it just a day earlier.

Most players sat alone in the aftermath of the 77-74 national championship loss to No. 2-seed Villanova, towels draped around their necks or over their heads, blank stares on their faces and eyes still bloodshot. The players who weren’t left alone spoke in uneven sentences, about the improbability of the last possession, the brotherhood from this season that would never be recreated and the love between them and their coach.

As Paige sat down in a lone metal folding chair in the back of the locker room, a massive banner of he and his teammates grinning broadly wearing Final Four hats, celebrating the East Regional championship hung to his left.

He sat down in the seat, breathing hard, pulling at the ends of the towel around his neck.

In that moment, he wasn’t gasping for air because he was out of breath, but because he was out of time.

4.7 seconds before Kris Jenkins’ shot dropped through the net and the confetti fell, Paige thought he had given himself more time. On a night when so many of UNC’s simple shots didn’t fall, a circus shot — a double-pump 3-pointer — tied the national championship and gave Paige a program record 39 career NCAA Tournament 3-pointers.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had anybody make a tougher shot than Marcus Paige made,” coach Roy Williams said.

The crowd roared. Jaws dropped. Small seat cushions distributed to most of the 74,340 fans flew in the air.

“You’re so close to that moment,” Paige said. “You’re 4.7 seconds away from winning the game because I told the team we were going to win if we got to overtime. All we had to do was get to overtime and the game was ours, and I truly believe that and I think our whole team believes that.”

Amid the chaos, Williams called a timeout to discuss the final 4.7 seconds.

A player does mental math when that kind of thing happens. Only so many dribbles, passes and shots can happen in such a short amount of time. And the odds that those maneuvers change the outcome of the game? Often slim.

“You have a mental clock in your head as Ryan (Arcidiacono) is bringing the ball up the court,” Paige said. “You kind of know. You get caught watching the ball. I think that happened to a couple of us, hoping the clock would run out instead of defending to the end.”

So the Tar Heels (33-7) did the calculations and hoped. Hoped that by Kris Jenkins inbounding the ball, he wouldn’t have time to find a shot. Hoped that by denying deep, UNC could hang on for a fresh clock, an even score and a sixth national championship.

Even without scoring a single transition point, the Tar Heels had erased a 10-point deficit, thanks in large part to two late, improbable shots by Paige. It was fate, it had to have been. A few more seconds would lead to a few more minutes and then they would be cutting down nets.

But their mental math didn’t add up the way they thought.

With 255 made 3-pointers this season, there was no way Jenkins wasn’t taking that shot.

Standing on the sideline, Theo Pinson saw it before it happened, and he tried to yell.

“I had a feeling when Kris was taking the ball out,” Pinson said. “And I was yelling it but I had to stop because they weren’t listening so I just let it play out. That was a great shot by Kris.”

“Good play. Trail man. He let it go.”

When the ball found Jenkins (14 points) to the right of the top of the key, a bad feeling washed over Paige.

A couple of breaths earlier, Paige was on the right side of history — the side of history that kids dream about in front of driveway basketball goals in Marion, Iowa.

But as Arcidiacono tossed the ball backwards to the trailing Jenkins, who pulled up for the shot a second before Isaiah Hicks got in his face, that dream was yanked away just as fast as it materialized.

“As soon as he got it off, all you can do is pray when the ball is in the air,” Paige said. “It felt like it was in the air forever. He just knocked it down and the fireworks go off right then and the moment that you had been clawing for, fighting every day for, hoping for, dreaming about, just goes away that fast.”

Before the points were even on the scoreboard, the indoor fireworks shot off and the Villanova players rushed onto the court as the Tar Heels slumped in disbelief.

Seconds earlier, UNC fans had been throwing orange seat cushions in the air in jubilation. But almost as soon as the last North Carolina-thrown cushion hit the ground, another wave of exuberant tosses exploded through the arena as Villanova fans filled the air with their own cushions, celebrating their first national championship since 1985.

With one 3-point shot, Jenkins fractured a dream that felt only a few minutes away from fulfillment. A group so close to adding their names to the annals of Tobacco Road basketball royalty in front of more than 50 former Tar Heels, instead left the program’s first national title game in six years empty handed.

“Sean (May) and Bobby Frasor talked about getting a seat at the table at Carolina,” Paige said. “There’s only five seats at that table with 57, 82, 93, 2005, 2009. We had a chair pulled all the way to that table and we just couldn’t quite get there.

“It’s something that’ll probably haunt me for the rest of my life. And I’m sure a lot of the guys in here are thinking about what if or what could we have done. But at the same time, we’re definitely going to have a deep appreciation for the run we had and how great of a team we were this year.”

After four years, 141 games and 1,844 points, Paige walked off the court without realizing his ultimate goal. His final season was remarkable as he came back from a broken wrist and a shooting slump to lead his team all the way to the national championship game.

And yet, despite all his success, Paige still fell 4.7 seconds short of ending his career the only way that he felt he could.

“At some point tonight, I’ll have to take this jersey off and I’ll never get to be a Tar Heel again in the moment,” Paige said. “But this group had so much fun. From locker rooms to bus trips to hotels. We really enjoyed coming to practice every day. Being ourselves. Being that loose group, having fun. And just being who we were.

“That’s done. That’s over. We’ll never get that back. The memory now we’ll have is one half-step shorter than the memory we wanted to have.”

Tar Heels loose ahead of national championship

HOUSTON — Roy Williams twitched in surprise as he turned his head at Sunday’s final press conference before Monday’s national championship game.

Another press conference, another uninvited guest — the same guest that always seems to find his way into the spotlight — stealing the show.

But at this point, it shouldn’t have come as any shock that Theo Pinson found his way on to the dais at the last pregame press conference of the NCAA Tournament.

“He turned his head, and it was probably one of his nightmares to see my face,” Pinson said, regaling reporters in the locker room afterwards with the story of his latest hijinks.

If the first press conference crashing before the Elite Eight win against Notre Dame was off the cuff, this one was most certainly premeditated.

It’s a tradition, part of a series of superstitions that these fun-loving Tar Heels refuse to shake ahead of the biggest game of their careers thus far.

“Theo, I’m pretty sure he did that because last weekend he did that and it worked well for us,” senior Marcus Paige said. “We don’t like to disrupt what’s working. The past couple weekends we’ve kept the same dinner routines. The first night we’ll go to a nice steakhouse and then after we play, and then on this day on the previous weekends, we’ve gone to a more laid back restaurant and just kind of had a more casual dinner. We’re doing that again. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Hopefully this rhythm that we’re in will help us.”

From right, North Carolina forward Justin Jackson (44) and guard Marcus Paige (5) watch as guard Joel Berry II (2) jokes around during a press conference before the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)
From right, North Carolina forward Justin Jackson (44) and guard Marcus Paige (5) watch as guard Joel Berry II (2) jokes around during a press conference before the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

The looseness has been well-documented. From Pinson’s antics to Williams’ dance moves and April Fools’ pranks, this UNC team is perhaps one of the most laid back squads to make it this far under Williams.

Usually, Williams prefers radio silence on bus trips between the arenas and hotels, but recently, the coach has gone soft in his ways, and earlier this week he passed the auxiliary cord around to his players to DJ the drive. It’s just another one of the ways the coach, who said he used to “coach with fear,” has adjusted to his teams over the years.

“He’s been doing the dabbing,” sophomore point guard Joel Berry II said. “He’s been jumping around with us. He’s been dancing with us. On the bus on the way back to the hotel usually coach doesn’t let guys play music on the bus, but he encouraged us to take our phones to the front of the bus and put it on the aux cord and were just all in there singing and dancing.

“It just goes to show that he’s going into this loose. I think he’s enjoying this process as well. And through these years, there’s different ways you have to coach different teams. I think the way he has coached this team has been unbelievable. We’re a team that likes to joke around and have fun. He’s adjusted to that really well. I think he’s handled it really well. He just changed his way really well as well. I think it’s bringing him a little joy knowing that there’s still hope in coaching college basketball. I think he’s done a great job of that.”

North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts as head coach Roy Williams talks about his height during a press conference before the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)
North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts as head coach Roy Williams talks about his height during a press conference before the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

On the other side of the court, No. 2-seed Villanova is taking a more serious approach, having learned that looseness doesn’t always win championships in a game against the Tar Heels seven years ago.

UNC trounced the Wildcats 83-69 in the Final Four en route to the 2009 national championship game. Ty Lawson’s 22 points along with 20 from Wayne Ellington and 18 points and 11 rebounds by Tyler Hansbrough pushed the Tar Heels past Villanova and onto an eventual title.

Remembering the sheer determination of that UNC team, Villanova coach Jay Wright has implemented a tight regimen for his players to keep them focused throughout the tournament.

“You could just see the focus in Carolina,” Wright said Friday. “You could see our guys were just playing a game. I knew. It was about 10 minutes into the game. I knew. I was like, ‘I didn’t get these guys ready.’ ”

So this time around, Wright is making plenty sure his guys are ready to face North Carolina (33-6) on an even bigger stage.

Since beating Oklahoma 95-51 Saturday night, the Wildcats (34-5) have continued to stay in the zone, still consuming basketball at a constant clip.

“We watched the game between North Carolina and Syracuse last night,” Darryl Reynolds said. “We ate, we slept. We watched the game back at the hotel. Just try to digest the (Oklahoma) game but also kind of put that aside because we have a game ahead of us.”

Like any team preparing for a game of this magnitude, the Tar Heels will definitely be doing the same game-planning and practicing, but in staying true to themselves, there’s definitely going to be a little fun mixed in with the hard work.

“I think it’s going to be a long, long 48 hours or whatever it is,” Paige said after the win against Syracuse. “You’ve got to enjoy it. Luckily our team is probably the most loose, most relaxed fun team to be around. So we’ll find time, find ways to kill time. Hang out and play video games. Relax, shoot some pool at the hotel. I’ve got to win some of those games, some of those ping pong games too.”

“We’ll relax and then as the game gets closer, we’ve got to really focus in. There’s only two teams left playing in the country. No reason for us not to have our best performance Monday night.”

UNC limits celebration, hopes for bigger one ahead

HOUSTON — Marcus Paige allowed himself less than a minute — 39 seconds to be precise — to celebrate.

As he, Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson, Brice Johnson and Joel Berry II checked out of Saturday night’s 83-66 national semifinal win against No. 10-seed Syracuse, Paige let himself exhale and take in the surroundings at the NRG Center.

UNC checked off one more item on the to-do list. But there’s still a big one remaining.

“I took about 45 seconds to cherish that moment,” said Paige, who scored 13 points. “When he subbed in our bench and we got to come out, that was the moment of relaxation and celebration for me, hugging my teammates, telling my teammates, ‘Hey we got one more game.’

“Because our ultimate goal is not to make the final game, it’s to win the final game. You’ve got to happy, satisfied with the way you played and to get to this point. But I’m sure it’ll be a lot more fun if we come in here after a win on a Monday night.”

There was, of course, plenty of reason to celebrate for those 39 seconds. The Tar Heels faced off against ACC foe Syracuse (23-14) for the third time this season, and, for the the third time, UNC walked off the court with a victory.

It was a close game, at least compared to Villanova’s earlier 95-51 thrashing of Oklahoma. The Tar Heels struggled to find any separation early as Syracuse’s zone kept them out of an offensive rhythm.

“They were just a little more aggressive in that zone,” Johnson said. “They weren’t allowing us to get it in the middle of the pass. The first possession when I got the jump shot, I don’t think I touched it in the middle again. It was just a little more aggressive with the guards at the top not allowing us to try to get it in there.”

Initially, UNC settled for 3-point shots, a decision that didn’t pan out as they missed all 10 first-half 3-pointers.

But once the inside game got going, the Tar Heels (33-6) began to find some separation and outscored Syracuse 26-12 in the post en route to a 39-28 halftime lead.

UNC went 6 of 19 in the first 10 minutes of the game, including nine missed 3-pointers. But once the Tar Heels started forcing the ball inside, they went 11 of 16 from the floor and missed just one 3-pointer in the final 10 minutes.

That feat was especially impressive given that UNC leading scorer Brice Johnson sat the final 9:05 with two fouls.

Johnson went to the bench with the scored tied at 16, but keyed by buckets from Berry, Meeks, Jackson and Joel James, UNC went on a 10-2 run and stretched out the lead to nine points.

“I’m really proud of those guys for stepping up, especially Joel,” said Johnson, who had 16 points and nine rebounds. “He really hit some big time shots.”

UNC led Syracuse by 11 at half, but thanks to slack rebounding and turnovers by UNC, Syracuse was able to cut it into single digits on a 3-pointer by Malachi Richardson with 9:48 to go in the second half.

Paige then answered with a 3-pointer of his own — UNC’s first of the game — and stretched the lead back to 10 points.

North Carolina guard Marcus Paige (5) shoots a three-pointer during the first half of an NCAA Men's Basketball Championship semifinal game at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Saturday, April 2, 2016. North Carolina beat Syracuse 83-66 to advance to the National Championship. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)
North Carolina guard Marcus Paige (5) shoots a three-pointer during the first half of an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship semifinal game at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Saturday, April 2, 2016. North Carolina beat Syracuse 83-66 to advance to the National Championship. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

“There’s no question I got really excited because he had done so many good things and hand’t been able to make a shot,” coach Roy Williams said. “That was the first 3 our team made. I got a little excited on the sideline after that.”

But after Paige’s shot dropped, Syracuse senior Trevor Cooney answered with another 3 before Pinson drained UNC’s second triple. From there, UNC never led by fewer than 10 points en route to a national championship date Monday night with No. 2 seed Villanova.

There’s no denying that it was the biggest win of the season thus far. With everything on the line, it was the definition of a must-win game. But a bigger one is on the horizon, one that means there’s no time for an extended celebration.

Saturday night’s game was about business, and if everything goes the way UNC hopes, a much bigger party will come a little bit later.

“I’ve got one more,” Johnson said. “I’m not done. We’re not done as a team and I’m not done as a player. I’ve got one more game in college and I’ve got one more game this season. We’ll go out there and give it our all.”

WATCH: Paige can get UP

HOUSTON — Step aside Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks. 6-foot-1 guard Marcus Paige has hops too, and dang good ones at that. He threw this between the legs windmill dunk down at UNC’s open practice Friday afternoon at NRG Stadium. That one likely isn’t happening during a game, but goodness gracious, it was impressive.

Williams values special bonds with Baldwin, Paige

HOUSTON — Sitting on the stage in the interview room at the NRG Stadium a few days before his team was set to play Syracuse in the national semifinal, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was asked about his relationship with senior Marcus Paige.

Their days together are numbered. After this weekend, their relationship defined in the roles of coach and player will come to an end as Paige finally exhausts his collegiate eligibility.

But just because Paige, Williams’ tough lil’ nut and go-to guy, won’t suit up for the No. 1 seed Tar Heels any more doesn’t mean that their friendship is over.

It’s impossible to predict the future, but in the past, Williams’ friendships have transcended the hardwood, and as Paige grows out of Chapel Hill, Williams hopes that their friendship will grow too.

“Gosh, I hope so,” Williams said, his voice not quite breaking, but already tinged with emotion. “I think it will. He’s one of the most incredible young men I’ve ever been around. Marcus Paige has made me a better coach every day. He teaches me something every day.

“I think you have an opportunity to learn from every player, But Marcus truly has the gift of getting other people to follow him. He has that gift. I hope that our relationship only gets better and better. I think it will.”

Decades ago, Williams was in a similar position with T.C. Roberson head coach Buddy Baldwin. Williams was Baldwin’s point guard in the late 1960s, and even after graduating high school and heading off to careers at UNC and Kansas, Baldwin and Williams have remained close.

Baldwin estimates that he’s come to 141 games at the Smith Center since Williams took over UNC’s reins in 2003. When Williams was at Kansas, Baldwin and his wife picked a weekend every year to drive down for a couple of Big Eight games.

Health permitting, Baldwin goes to as many postseason games as possible, and each time Williams goes the Final Four, Baldwin goes too.

“It’s one of the things I’m more proud of than anything,” Williams said before leaving for Houston. “I say that my teams have taken me to seven — and now I can say my teams have taken me to eight Final Fours — and I take my high school coach with me every year.

“He was in Philadelphia and Washington DC. He’s fought and beat cancer three times. He’s had a kidney removed, bladder removed, he’s been back out on the golf course. It’s a thrill for me. I talk to him a heck of a lot more than I should. I’m a pain the butt talking to him.”

While their relationship started on the court, it’s evolved to the greens and the craps tables. And after so many years, basketball rarely comes up.

“We don’t really talk about basketball,” Baldwin said by phone before heading to Houston. “It’s just something we don’t talk about. In fact, I’ll be honest with you, we don’t talk about basketball at any time because I just, I know he’s all wrapped up in it and I know he likes time when he doesn’t want to talk about basketball. Let’s talk about something else. That’s the way it goes a lot.”

So the pair mostly talk about the Yankees, craps and their golf games. But every now and then basketball sneaks into their conversation. How could it not? With the deaths of close friends, the NCAA investigation and a self-inflicted pressure to give this team a proper sendoff, Williams often confided in his mentor about the stress of it all.

And Baldwin can’t help but worry about his friend and former player.

“Well, he lost three great friends,” Baldwin said. “His best friend in Chapel Hill lived across the street from him. And that has really, that really hurt Roy and affected Roy. I’ll tell you the thing, the NCAA. They never came out with it. They hurt Roy that way because it allowed people to use it against him in recruiting.

“And his knees are really bad right now. He’s going to have to have work done with his knees, probably have to have a replacement. He just had a lot going. Pressure, I think that he put on himself, plus the fact that he wanted these kids to win something so bad. He would talk about that. He wanted them to win something so bad. And when they did, I think it was just like, a big weight off his shoulders. I think it’s great.”

Baldwin is understandably protective of Williams. He’s been by his side for nearly 50 years, and he’s quick to defend him.

And when Baldwin isn’t around, Williams isn’t lacking for gladiators. Paige has filled that role, protecting and praising his coach since arriving to play for Williams four years ago.

While only about a decade separate Williams and Baldwin, the 43 years between Williams and Paige are much greater.

But despite the age difference, Baldwin sees a lot of similarities in his relationship with Williams and the relationship Williams shares with his player.

“I’ll put it this way, Marcus Paige is one of his favorite players, I can tell you that,” Baldwin said. “All time favorite. And he was one of my all time favorite. He was my point guard and very intelligent.

“You tell him something, you don’t have to say it but once, very, very competitive. Played hard. You go play golf with him, hey, you better bring your A game because he will try to beat you. That’s just the way it is.”

Beginning with an annual trip on last weekend in April, Williams and Baldwin make a point to play golf frequently throughout the offseason. And once he graduates, Paige could join that fraternity — but he’ll have to up his game first.

“I took up golf this past summer,” Paige said. “I don’t know if I’m ready to go with coach Williams. I still shank the ball out of play every single time. But I’ll definitely still stay in contact and depending on where I am in the next stage of my life, that kind of determines how much we’ll talk and stay in touch. But I don’t imagine him being a distant part of my life at any point soon.”

Marcus Paige keeps it poppin’

HOUSTON — Marcus Paige has been asked a lot of questions in his four years at North Carolina — about his prolific second halfs, his relationship with teammate Brice Johnson, his previous shooting woes and his recent resurgence.

But Thursday morning, I threw him a bit of a curveball during the first day of Final Four availability at the NRG Center and asked about popcorn.

It’s not completely random, I promise.

Leaving a press conference in Chapel Hill before the regional round of the NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia, Paige joked about ties between his home state of Iowa and his love of popcorn.

He might’ve been kidding, but it’s only natural that Paige might like to pop a couple kernels occasionally. Iowa is the top producer of corn in the United States, and according to the state’s agriculture department, Iowa farmers harvested 13.3 million acres of the crop in 2014.

And because I’m a popcorn fanatic, I wanted to know the degree of Paige’s devotion to the snack.

Turns out, he’s a pretty big fan, too.

“My two weaknesses are double-stuffed oreos and popcorn,” Paige said. I don’t know how it started or why.”

Sometimes when he’s sitting in his room in Chapel Hill, Johnson sniffs a smell wafting up through the house he shares with Paige and a couple of their friends.

It’s a strong one that snakes its way through their house frequently, most often late at night.

Johnson shakes his head. It’s just Paige downstairs, popping another bag of Butter Lovers popcorn.

“It’s something I notice all the time,” Johnson said. “Every time I look, he’s got it. Sometimes i’ll be sitting in my room and I’ll just smell butter. And I’m like, I already know who it is. Marcus is eating popcorn. That’s his favorite snack. It’s what he likes to do at night.”

Most of the time he just throws a bag in the microwave and a couple of minutes later: heaven.

But sometimes, Paige switches it up and pulls out a pot, some oil and a bag of kernels for a stovetop special.

“It’s easy to just pop a little butter lovers in the microwave for two minutes,” he said. “When I’m at home, I sometimes make stovetop popcorn.

“My mom (taught me). You just put it on the stove and then it pops. It’s one of the simpler things. I’m not very good at cooking.”

There’s a joke here about Paige’s 3-point cooking on the court being better than his skills in the kitchen, but I’ll spare you.

Paige’s hot hand helps UNC rout Indiana

PHILADELPHIA — Thirty-two years later and 775 miles away, Marcus Paige passed Michael Jordan with a shot fake and a jumper.

It was perfectly poetic — a Sweet 16 matchup against an underdog Indiana team in what could be the last game of his collegiate career.

Sure, it only took Jordan three years to amass 1,788 points, but Paige, a four-year starter on one of Roy Williams’ most beloved teams, finally passed the gold standard of North Carolina basketball with 21 points, including a 6 of 9 mark from beyond the arc, in UNC’s dominant 101-86 victory against No. 5 seed Indiana at the Wells Fargo Center.

“It was pretty cool, going back to I think Indiana was Michael Jordan’s last college game,” Paige said. “So it’s a big honor just to be in the same sentence as the greatest player to ever play. I realize he did it in three years. It’s a little bit different, but at the same time, it doesn’t say that in the record books.”

Unlike Jordan’s final points against Indiana, Paige will get a chance extend his career and add to his total as a stellar team performance pushed No. 1 seed UNC through to an Elite Eight meeting with No. 6 seed Notre Dame Sunday evening at approximately 8:49 p.m. in a rematch of the ACC semifinals two weeks ago.

It was in that game — a 78-47 win — that Paige found his groove, announcing it to his teammates with a head nod and a confident, “I’m back,” after nailing a stepback 3-pointer late in the first half.

“He was definitely starting to click then,” said senior forward Brice Johnson, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. “I saw it starting to click a couple of times before that but then he kind of went back into a slump.

“You can really tell when he’s out there having fun and knocking down shots. You can really see it on his face. You can see him bounce around on defense. It’s good and it’s fun to watch him do that.”

Paige knows he’s back, his teammates can feel that he’s back, and his statistics show that he’s back.

In the regular season, Paige averaged 12 points and 3.7 assists. Since his 16-point performance against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament, Paige is averaging 14.4 points and 4.4 assists.

Paige continued on his renewed shooting streak Friday night, torching the doubters out of the gate as he hit four 3-pointers in five possessions, including his first coming just 40 seconds into the game.

“Marcus was making video game shots to start the game,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “I mean, seriously.”

North Carolina guard Marcus Paige (5) shoots a three-pointer during the first half of an NCAA Tournament East Regional college basketball game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA on Friday, March 25, 2016. Wisconsin leads Notre Dame 23-19 at the half. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)
North Carolina guard Marcus Paige (5) shoots a three-pointer during the first half of an NCAA Tournament East Regional college basketball game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA on Friday, March 25, 2016. Wisconsin leads Notre Dame 23-19 at the half. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

In a span of 18 seconds, Paige knocked down back-to-back triples — something that was a rare occurrence this season.

“I haven’t hit two in a row in a long time,” Paige said. “To knock down two in a row, I was like ‘uh oh, I might mess around and make a couple more,’ and that’s what I did. I just wanted to stay aggressive and the rim looked pretty big today. I hope it’s just this arena so I can do it again on Sunday.”

As Paige’s 3-point assault pushed UNC (31-6) to an early 14-8 lead, questions about his shot melted away, replaced with incredulous gasps each time another bucket sank through the net.

“I’ve just tried to look at March as a new opportunity for me,” Paige said. “I’ve shot a little bit better in the tournament than I did throughout the season. But once I got my first one going I got a couple more open looks and got in a rhythm.”

The final 3-pointer in the opening barrage tied Jordan’s place in the record books, but Paige surpassed him with a shot fake and a midrange jumper over Juwan Morgan to give UNC a 25-17 lead with 10:35 to go in the first half.

Paige finished the first half with 14 points and a perfect 4-for-4 mark from beyond the arc. He missed two 3-pointers in the second half to break his streak, but finished with six triples, tying the UNC record for an NCAA Tournament game.

“You can just see it,” Johnson said. “He has a little pep in his step, a little bounce that he has. You can tell that he’s starting to feel it and get into the game.

“That’s what we need, we need our leader to get in the flow of the game and knock down some big time shots.”

Tough Tar Heels silence doubters

RALEIGH — North Carolina passed the toughness test with three business-like wins on the way to the ACC Tournament Championship last week.

That should’ve given everyone more faith in UNC, right? They’re a No. 1 seed, heavily favored in their first two NCAA Tournament games with a National Player of the Year candidate on the roster.

So why wouldn’t they be a favorite to make it to the Final Four?

Good question.

National analysts still doubted their edge. ESPN’s Myron Medcalf picked UNC to exit the tournament in the first weekend. Seth Davis wondered if Florida Gulf Coast would be the first 16-seed to beat the No. 1 seed Tar Heels.

And yet, after the first weekend, North Carolina is still standing — and standing tall.

With another big time run keyed by a dominant defensive effort, UNC raced past Providence, effectively crushing any lingering narrative that questioned UNC’s toughness.

“Everyone hears what the national media guys say,” guard Marcus Paige said. “It’s impossible not to at this time of year. We feel like we’ve earned the rights to be considered one of the best teams with the way we’ve played.

“Yet, I think everybody and ESPN, they picked either Kansas or Michigan State to win it and most people had Kentucky in the Final Four. We felt like we had to use that as a little bit of motivation and also just the fact that we’re a one seed and we were expected to win this game and we wanted to come out and assert our dominance.”

Before last night’s win, the Friars echoed that narrative, playfully picking at the Tar Heels as they warmed up.

“It started yesterday and then when we were walking out and stretching, they were saying something about y’all guys look cute and something like that,” Joel Berry II said. “I think everybody just takes us for just some soft guys walking around thinking just because we’re Carolina, they’re going to bow down to us. We were talking a little junk tonight but sometimes it gets like that and I like it.”

The trash talk continued on the court as the two teams chirped back and forth throughout the game. But UNC silenced Providence with its lockdown defense and massive run en route to the 19-point win and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen to face No. 5 seed Indiana in Philadelphia.

“I think it’s this Carolina blue,” Berry said. “It kind of gives up that little soft impression but we went out there and did what we had to do and now they’re the ones going home.”

UNC sees familiar faces in enemy territory

RALEIGH — As the North Carolina men’s basketball team took the court for its open practice Wednesday afternoon, knocking down long shots and acrobatic dunks, fans screamed out to their favorite players.




The fans screaming their adoration were a stark contract to the fans screaming obscenities less than a month earlier as UNC dismantled N.C. State 80-68.

For approximately 360 days out of the year, PNC Arena is enemy territory.

Regardless of UNC’s recent record in the building or the photoshopped images of ‘Paige’NC Arena paying tribute to Marcus Paige’s historical heroics, it’s an away gym, often filled with angry crowds painted in red.

But as the No. 1 seed Tar Heels (28-6) took the court at PNC for Wednesday afternoon’s open practice, the red seats were filled with a light blue usually found about 45 minutes away.

PNC will be home for the week, giving the Tar Heels an advantage they don’t usually find in Raleigh.

“That was kind of a goal of ours to end up in Raleigh, you know right down the street,” Paige said. “To have basically a home crowd our first two games. When they announced we were playing in Raleigh as a one seed, we were all really excited because it’s what we’d been thinking about all year.”

Though the Tar Heels are always visitors at PNC, they’ve had plenty of success on its hardwood. Roy Williams-coached UNC teams are 13-2 in the arena, including an 11-2 record against N.C. State.

Paige has an almost supernatural ability to hit long range shots in the building, knocking down 15 3-pointers in four games — including five in his junior year and seven during his sophomore season.

“I like this place,” Paige said. “I’m comfortable here. Played here a couple of times. So I’m familiar with the environment. As a shooter if you’ve had some success somewhere, you think about it and remember it and use it.”

The arena was only a fraction full for the late afternoon practice, but by Thursday night at 7:20 p.m. against 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast (21-13), it will undoubtedly be a near-mirror image of the Smith Center as UNC fans make the short drive over to the NCAA first and second round host site.

“It’s basically a home game for us,” said Theo Pinson, a Greensboro native. “We get to use that to our advantage. We lost one game at home and we shouldn’t have lost that one. We’re just going to use the home crowd to our advantage.”