Tag Archives: UNC Basketball

NCAA announces discrimination-free process for college championship sites

The sports world continues to react to House Bill 2 in North Carolina, with the NCAA now asking each regional site to provide a discrimination-free zone for the NCAA Tournament and other championships. This directly affects Greensboro and Charlotte, which are set to be regional hosts in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

“The higher education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation backgrounds,” NCAA board chairman and Kansas State president Kirk Schulz said in a statement. “So it is important that we assure that (the) community – including our student-athletes and fans – will always enjoy the experience of competing and watching at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination.”

The announcement comes as a response not only to HB2 getting passed in North Carolina, but a Mississippi law that allows government workers, religious groups and some private businesses to deny services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people due to religious beliefs that takes effect on July 1.

Since 2001, the NCAA has banned cities that fly the Confederate battle flag or use “abusive or offensive” Native American imagery or mascots from hosting regionals.

Along with the statement from Schulz, the NCAA also said it will require sites to provide “an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination.” The NCAA Board of Governors adopted an anti-discrimination measure earlier in the day at a meeting in Indianapolis.

North Carolina has hosted an NCAA Tournament game 13 times in the last 16 years, but HB2 might mar those numbers. If Greensboro and Charlotte are  stripped of their chance to host March Madness, it would be just the latest major event to depart from NC.

National backlash is nothing new to North Carolina with businesses straying from the state and musicians from Nick Jonas to Bruce Springsteen canceling shows. The NBA has also said the 2017 All-Star Game could be removed from Charlotte, citing “problematic” aspects of HB2 .

Losing the NCAA Tournament would mean huge monetary losses for Greensboro. The 2014 tournament games in Raleigh brought in an estimated $4.2 million generated and 17,720 visitors. Formerly known as “Tournament Town” as ACC Tournament host five times from 2010-2015, the ACC will not return to Greensboro Coliseum again until 2020. If the NCAA Tournament leaves due to discrimination laws would be a huge blow to the city and state.

Given the fact that both Duke and North Carolina have typically played close to home during the opening rounds, not having a host site in the state would hurt both schools. UNC played at PNC Arena in Raleigh during the first and second rounds this year and Duke is expected to compete for a top-two seed, potentially landing in Greensboro, in 2017.

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Meeks, Jackson declare for NBA draft, don’t hire agents

CHAPEL HILL — Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks will enter the NBA draft but not hire agents, North Carolina announced Friday afternoon.

“Justin and Kennedy have our complete support in taking this step,” head coach Roy Williams said in a release.” Any player who is thinking about playing in the NBA next season should gather as much information as they can about their possible draft position. We will continue to support and assist them over the next month to obtain the information that will help them decide whether they should remain in the draft or return to UNC next season.”

The pair, who were regular starters on last year’s team, had until April 24 to declare for the draft, and they can withdraw their names by May 25 and return to school if they haven’t hired agents. By declaring for the draft, the two are eligible to be part of the 70 players invited to the NBA Combine, held in Chicago May 10-15.

Point guard Joel Berry II and forward Isaiah Hicks are not declaring for the NBA draft, according to a report by Inside Carolina.

Williams predicted that at least a couple of his players would test draft waters in his season-wrap up press conference last week.

“I think that some of our guys will try to go to the combine, will declare and not hire an agent, and see how they play in the combine,” Williams said. “And I have no problem with that.

“If I were the father of some of our players, I’d get them to do the same thing.”

Jackson, a forward/guard hybrid, averaged 12.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in his sophomore campaign while Meeks put up 9.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game during his junior year.

Williams wraps up the season

CHAPEL HILL — When Roy Williams called a press conference Tuesday afternoon, he wanted to wrap up a few loose ends, and he wanted to set the record straight.

“Steve (Kirschner) thinks I’m wacko for agreeing to do this,” Williams said. “One of the reasons I wanted to do it was to bring closure to it. The other reason is we had a team meeting on Wednesday of last week, and I didn’t jump on him, but I disagreed with Isaiah. He took way too much responsibility for that shot. That shot was against North Carolina’s team.”

On April 4, a buzzer-beating shot by Kris Jenkins handed North Carolina a 3-point loss in the national championship, and on April 6, Williams wanted to talk about it with his team.

In the aftermath of the loss, Isaiah Hicks told reporters in the locker room that it was his fault Jenkins hit the shot, that he didn’t close out fast enough or defend the shot effectively.

But, Williams said, that wasn’t the case, and he called the team meeting the day after arriving back from Houston to make sure Hicks knew that he wasn’t to blame for the loss.

“He took way too much responsibility for that shot,” Williams said. “That shot was against North Carolina’s team. I was grading the film, and I gave Isaiah two good defenses during that one possession. Then I read these comments like, ‘I should’ve gotten up there’ and ‘he was my guy.’ It was North Carolina as a team.

“But Isaiah, it was not his man. But he was willing to take that responsibility. He did. If you watch it on tape, he challenged it a lot better than I thought he did. If you look at it in still pictures, it’s not as good a challenge. If you watch it on tape, he did challenge it.”

And, Williams acknowledged, even with a defender in Jenkins’ grill, he still could’ve hit that shot to win the game.

“We just didn’t get to Kris as closely as I would’ve wanted,” Williams said. “And you know what? We may have played great defense and he still would’ve made the shot. It was, As soon as he went up to shoot it, I knew it was going in. I didn’t even follow it, I knew it was going in.

“It was a great moment for him. But I don’t anybody thinking Isaiah screwed it up because he didn’t.”

ICYMI: Williams isn’t retiring this summer

To squelch any shred of lingering doubt, Williams confirmed again that the outcome of last week’s national championship game had zero influence over his retirement timeline.

“If I were going to quit,” Williams said, “I sure as the dickens wouldn’t have seen four (recruits) in an 18-hour period last Thursday and Friday.”

Williams frequently answered questions about his retirement throughout the season and the NCAA Tournament, with his frustration on the topic coming to a head at the Final Four when he got the question a couple times.

When asked to revisit those questions and the impact of the national title game on his longevity at UNC, Williams refrained that he wasn’t retiring any time soon.

“I don’t know what else I can say,” Williams said. “I mean, that (Villanova) game will have nothing do to with what Roy Williams does with the rest of his life.

“I’ve changed: I guess for four years I said I wanted to coach six to 10 more years. And I thought it was silly to say that four years ago and still say it, so I went down one. I’ve said I hope I can coach five to nine more years. That’s what I said in a home (recruiting visit) last week. And so that’s all I can say.”

NBA decisions coming next week

Williams said he expects a decision from his players on testing NBA draft waters next week.
He’s meeting with his team individually over the next couple of days and will continue to advise them before getting a concrete answer on their futures next week.

“I’ve met yesterday, today and tomorrow with our players,” Williams said. “There will be some of those players, where I’m not asking them to give me a definitive answer now, I want a definitive answer next week, but I think that some of our guys will try to go to the combine, will declare and not hire an agent, and see how they play in the combine, and I have no problem with that.

“If I were the father of some of our players, I’d get them to do the same thing. We’re not going to have a release today that says ‘Joe Blow’s going,’ and then tomorrow, [another player], and then the next day Henry’s going and anything like that. When we get through with all the interviews, we’ll make one announcement.”

Under new rules, college players can declare for the draft and go through the NBA combine, but retain collegiate eligibility if they don’t hire an agent and remove their names within 10 days after the combine, which falls on May 25 this year.
“I don’t see any reason, unless you play two minutes a game, I don’t think it’s necessary to do that,” Williams said, “but if you’re a good college player, why would you not?

Williams believes, if conducted honestly, the new process will allow players to get better information before deciding their futures.

“I think this should be better especially if the NBA does what they say they’re going to do,” he said. “If they’ll really be straightforward and honest with the kids, you’ll be top-30, you’ll be top-60 or whatever. In the past, I’ve had some players and, ‘I’ll say this is not a good decision. You’re last of the second round or won’t be drafted.’ But agents got to the parents and said, ‘oh we can move him up to the first round.’

“If the NBA says, and if they’ll be truthful, I think it’ll be great. I don’t see any problems with it whatsoever. I’ve never been against it. I just want guys to go that will be first round pick, where they’ve got guaranteed money.”

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.”

Roy Williams splits finger cutting down nets after clinching Final Four berth

Roy Williams partied really hard after the Tar Heels clinched a spot to the Final Four. So hard, in fact, that he split his finger while cutting down the nets in Philadelphia after North Carolina defeated Notre Dame in the Elite Eight.

Luckily for Williams, a team doctor was on hand to quickly take care of the wound so the 65-year-old coach could continue celebrating.

Williams didn’t show any signs of pain when he cut the net, selling it to the crowd before calmly climbing down the ladder.

“I was up there cutting the net and I started to take a step back and it felt like the ladder moved a little bit,” Williams explained. “I grabbed and when I grabbed the end of the scissors I started bleeding.

“I’ve really got very good-looking blood. It’s very bright, very deep colors.”

For anyone who thought the injury would restrict Williams from throwing down in the locker room, those doubters were sorely mistaken.

Heading to his eighth Final Four and carrying the Tar Heels to a record 19th trip to the national semifinals, Williams clearly still has some work to do  with his net-cutting abilities. If he can find a way to earn just two more wins, Williams might get another crack at the process yet again.

Even without an invitation, Pinson still the life of the party

PHILADELPHIA — Theo Pinson, arguably the life of No. 1 seed North Carolina’s party, wasn’t invited to Saturday afternoon’s press conference festivities.

But just because there wasn’t a place at the dais for Pinson didn’t mean he was going to miss out on all the fun.

Bored in the locker room while UNC’s starting five fielded questions about Sunday’s matchup with Notre Dame (8:49 p.m., TBS) alongside their coach from the podium, Pinson decided to do something coach Roy Williams said he hasn’t seen in 28 years of coaching.

Casually jogging up the steps to the stage, Pinson crashed the press conference, interrupting teammate Justin Jackson.

“Where my chair at,” Pinson deadpanned. “Where my name at, though?”

He loitered on the stage for a minute, looking for a place to squeeze in before jogging back to the locker room.

“There was no space for me to sit down,” Pinson said. “I was going to sit next to Coach but that probably would’ve been bad on his knees.”

His teammates cracked up, Brice Johnson burying his head in his hand, shoulders shaking with laughter.

“Theo said in the locker room that he’d do it, I just didn’t actually think he’d do it,” Johnson said later. “I thought somebody would tackle him before he got up there, but they didn’t. That’s just who we are.

“We’re a bunch of kids. We like to have a lot of fun but when it’s time for us to play, we know how to turn it on and get ready to play.”

While Pinson’s surprise cameo took the crowd of reporters by surprise, Williams was unfazed.

“You guys don’t have to put up with him,” Williams said, laughing. “I have to put up with him every dadgum day. You’re doing a nice job, Theo. I appreciate you. Like I told you, I never have to congratulate him. He congratulates himself. I’ve been coaching 28 years I’ve never had one friggin’ player walk up in the middle of a damn press conference.

“That’s the guy who mimicked Coach Larry Fedora last night in the locker room. You guys want to see something funny, you ought to see that.”

Saturday’s actions were hardly out of character for the sophomore swingman. He and the rest of the Tar Heels know how to have a good time amidst the pressure cooker of the NCAA Tournament. It’s made them media darlings, breaking through to show personality in a time when most teams stick to the same well-worn, politically correct script.

After the senior night win against Syracuse, Williams told the crowd this was one of his favorite teams. In the midst of questions about NCAA sanctions and academic scandal, some levity from this year’s Tar Heels is all the more necessary to keep them going in this year’s tournament.

“I think this team is always comfortable with ourselves,” junior Kennedy Meeks said. “I don’t think we’ll ever change for anyone. I think we’re the same way, how we are in the locker room, outside the locker room. Just to show how Theo, his sense of humor is out of this world. That’s our identity. That’s how we’re always going to be. Whether we lose or anything.”

So, did Pinson’s actions earn him spot at the next press conference?

“They might have one chair open for me,” he said. “Maybe a name tag, too.”

ACC to rake in nearly $40 million payout from NCAA Tournament success

In case you haven’t noticed, the ACC is dominating the NCAA Tournament this year. Thanks to a mega TV deal for the tournament, that domination pays pretty well.

The conference sent a record six teams to the Sweet 16 and will make up half of the field for the Elite Eight. All four are on the same side of the bracket, meaning two will make the Final Four and one will compete for a championship.

One year after raking in a record $32.8 million last year with Duke winning the National Championship, the ACC is already set to top that number with a record $39.9 million, according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.

The NCAA pays out per unit earned, which is awarded to a conference based on a single game played, and the ACC earned 25 this season. Units, which do not include the championship game, are paid out at $265,791 per game and will increase in value over the next five years through 2021.

Payouts will be split up between each school in the ACC over a six-year period beginning this year. The funds come as a result of a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal signed with CBS and Turner in 2011, which is $771 million per year.

While the conference will see a record payout this season, the players still see none of those funds. Fortunately, they are provided with free wifi for their efforts, so there’s that.


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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.”

UNC avoids potentially historical FCSU scare

RALEIGH — North Carolina coach Roy Williams didn’t have to raise his voice at halftime.

Up by just one point against a 16-seed, the top-seeded Tar Heels knew they weren’t playing well. Other than FGCU’s 10 turnovers, nearly every statistic on the sheet gave that much away.

A 21-14 rebounding deficit, FGCU’s 60 percent from the floor, the Eagles’ 22-16 edge in the paint.

“It’s one of the worst halves we played all year long,” Williams said afterwards.

Williams didn’t need to yell the poor play out of his players or remind them of what was at stake. The motivation is the same for every team, every year: win and extend the season. Lose and go home while other teams are still playing for their shot at a national title.

“Coach came in halftime, he didn’t yell at us a lot,” point guard Joel Berry said. “He was saying we had to pick up our intensity. They came out being the aggressor, and we were just laid back thinking they were going to bow down to us.”

The 16 seed certainly wasn’t doing any genuflecting, and it felt like UNC could be on the verge of the worst kind of history.

That thought — the potential of being the first one-seed to lose to a 16 — infiltrated the players’ minds, rattling them in the first half as they struggled to find momentum amidst FGCU’s momentum-building layups and flexes.

“It’s sitting in the back of your head because you don’t want to be that No. 1 seed that’s the first one to ever get beat by a 16 seed,” Berry said. “It was there in my head, and it was probably in the other guys’ heads too. I think that’s why we came out a little bit shaky.”

But with measured yet emphatic words from Williams at halftime, the Tar Heels found the necessary wakeup call to get back on track for a 83-67 win.

Keyed by five quick points on a Marcus Paige 3-pointer and a layup by Berry (14 points, six rebounds) UNC finally gained control of the game with a 22-6 run to open the second half.

“That was an opportunity for us to get going,” Paige said of his shot. “For that to go down, it kind of ignited us in the second half.”

After allowing FGCU (21-14) to score at will in the first half, UNC clamped down on defense and held the Eagles to just 30 percent in the second half. Brice Johnson erupted for a career-high eight blocks, swatting nearly everything that came near him.

It was a turnaround reminiscent of UNC’s opening game of the ACC tournament where it took a big second-half run to overcome a slow start against Pittsburgh.

“It just took us a while to get going, similar to the way it took us a while to get going against Pitt,” said Paige, who finished with 10 points in his penultimate PNC Arena appearance. “Now there’s no time for that and no room for that … There’s no time to tiptoe into a game and not be the aggressor not with as talented a team as we have. We’ve got to take it at them, whoever it is, make them play our style of basketball.”

And like that Pittsburgh game, the Tar Heels (29-6) hope that this second half can help ignite momentum moving forward.

“You can’t build on anything we did on the first half,” Paige said. “But we played better in the second half. We went back to our lockdown defense where we held them to 30 percent from the field. Did a little bit better on the boards and got up and run and started playing Carolina basketball.

“So we can build off of what we did in the second half. We would’ve liked to be able to build what we did the whole game but having some positive things down the stretch and getting the lead out and being able sit down the last couple of minutes is something we wanted.”

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.”