For the second time this season, UNC guard Marcus Paige is the ACC Player of the Week.
Paige scored 21 of his game-high 23 points in the second half as the Tar Heels beat 11th ranked Kentucky, 82-77, on Saturday. The Marion, Iowa, native was 10-of-10 from the free throw line. He also had three steals, all of which came in the second half and led to UNC baskets. It was Paige’s fourth 20-point game of the season. He hit a key 3-pointer with 8:17 to play to give UNC a six-point lead. Paige’s 21 second-half points were more than any other player on either team scored in the entire game.
Truly one of those "tale of two halves" type of games for Paige. In the first half Paige was nearly held scoreless. He was 0-5 from the floor and only scored because Roy Williams inserted him back in the game to shoot free throws after Kentucky coach John Calipari was hit with a technical foul.
In the second half, Paige really jump started his offense by making a difference on the defensive end. Four of his first six points in the second half came via steals and a layup. However, Paige's biggest production came down the stretch. With UNC up 57-54 with 9:56 left Paige would score nine of UNC's next 15 points extending the Tar Heel lead to seven with a minute left. That sequence also included Paige assisting on the now infamous alley-oop dunk by Brice Johnson. Then with Kentucky mounting a rally in the final minute and seemingly every Tar Heels missing free throws, Paige made all six of his attempts at the line. The final two makes came when the Wildcats had closed the deficit to 80-77.
After a handful of games where Paige struggled with the new defensive focus on him, this was a nice bounce-back game. It is also a step forward in his development as the team's primary scorer to shed a bad half of basketball and produce when his team needed him. Paige said after the game he wants the ball in his hands and embraces the opportunity to be player who needs to make the big shot. Needless to say he has come a long way since a season ago.