Where were you the day Marcus Paige became a Tar Heel legend?
For the most part this was one of UNC's worst efforts in quite some time, especially in the first half. The Heels were flat in opening half. The offense appeared stagnant and shots from the floor and the free throw line were not falling. The Tar Heels also committed 11 turnovers, were destroyed on the defensive glass by BeeJay Anya digging an eight point hole at the break. J.P. Tokoto was basically the only ray of hope as the Heels played poorly and continued to do so That was the marked difference between this game and the other slow road starts in the now ten game winning streak. UNC started slow against Notre Dame and Florida State but by the end of the half really figured things out. The second half of those games were simply a carry over from the first with Marcus Paige doing what he does in the second half.
In the second half, UNC got their act together to some extent. A minute into the half UNC committed its 12th turnover. They would not commit another one the rest of the game. Still, it seemed as though UNC could never quite get over the hump until Marcus Paige showed up. Earlier this week I wrote about just how good Paige had been in the second half of ACC games. This half of basketball from Paige will easily go down as one of the legendary performances in UNC history. The sophomore guard willed UNC back into the game hitting four straight threes as the Heels rallied from down six to up one with 5:47 left. A pair of Tokoto baskets pushed UNC's lead to 60-57 with 4:06 left.
At this point T.J Warren(who finished with 36 points) re-entered the game and kicked off one of the better duels you will see between two potential All-ACC players. In the final two minutes Paige hit a pair of free throws and a three while Warren hit a pair of runners coupled with a Ralston Turner three to even the game at 69 apiece.
Then things got weird.
Warren drove with seconds left and had his shot blocked. McAdoo caught Warren's hand after the ball left it but no foul was called. Paige went up for the rebound but was hit by Tyler Lewis sending UNC's best free throw shooter to the line for two shots. Paige made both with 3.8 seconds left to put the Tar Heels up two.
Then things got really weird.
On the ensuring inbounds Leslie McDonald first made a solid defensive play. He broke up the pass and knocked the ball out of bounds leaving the Wolfpack with only 1.5 seconds left and having to throw the ball in from the sideline on UNC's end. Then McDonald took complete leave of his senses by fouling Warren before the ball was even thrown in giving the Wolfpack forward a chance to tie the game. He did and a last second shot by Paige was short sending the game to overtime.
In the extra session it looked all the world like NC State might run away with it. The Wolfpack did a better job helping on Paige resulting in two blocked shots. On the other end NC State scored on three straight possession to go up six with Warren at the line to complete make it seven points but missed it. Then it was more Marcus Paige with a helping hand from Brice Johnson and James Michael McAdoo. Paige hit two more threes and a pair of free throws, with the trip to the line earned by going into the lane and grabbing an offensive rebound off a Johnson. After forcing a turnover with a trap McAdoo tied the game up with a layup but then fouled Warren on the other end. Warren hit one of two free throws setting up this.
There was never any doubt Paige would be the one to take the last shot. The only thing Paige was missing this season was a game winner. He has that now and a serious case not only for All-ACC First Team but ACC Player of the Year. For the game Paige had a career high 35 points, 11-21 from the floor, 7-12 from three, six rebounds, five assists. Obviously UNC history is replete with great performances but given Paige scored 31 of UNC's 59 points and pulled the team back from the brink more than once, it's up there on the list. Paige was so good it overshadows a nice 16 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists from Tokoto who was hampered late in the game by some sort of wrist issue and cramps. Johnson chipped in 10 points and Meeks, while struggling a bit offensively pulled down ten rebounds to give UNC a 44-37 edge on the boards.
With the win, UNC runs the streak to ten games and finishes the month of February without a loss. The last time that happened? 1997. That was also the last time UNC started ACC play 0-3.
UNC went to the Final Four that year.