The 2013-14 North Carolina Tar Heels basketball season was one filled with uncertainty. Between the suspensions of PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald, the wildly inconsistent form of the team throughout the first half of the season, and the squad’s apparent inability to make free throws, the only predictable element to the team was that they were unpredictable.
Well, actually there was ONE thing that you could predict. Heck, you could even set your watch by it. And that is that Marcus Paige would deliver the goods in the second half. “Second-Half Marcus” (I still believe that we all failed him by collectively being unable to come up with a better nickname) struck time and time again after intermission throughout the year. Who knows what happened to him during those halftimes. Maybe Roy gave him the Knute Rockne treatment, maybe Bugs Bunny broke out MJ’s “Secret Stuff”.
But whatever it was, boy was it fun to see. And that night in Raleigh was the finest example.
A suddenly red-hot Carolina came into Raleigh on February 27th riding a nine-game win streak. A brilliant come-from-behind victory over Duke a week earlier had given way to a beatdown against Wake Forest. And the Wolfpack, T.J. Warren in particular, were intent on bringing the Heels down. Warren had a classic game of his own, scoring 36 points and marching the Pack out to an early lead. An anemic Carolina offense only managed 26 first half points and trailed by eight at halftime. Then Marcus went to work.
Paige buried three after three, answering every Warren salvo with a bucket of his own. Completely unfazed by a Wolfpack crowd doing crazy rabid Wolfpack things, Paige led the Heels back into the game. The back and forth thriller went to overtime when Tyler Lewis and Leslie McDonald committed two of the most ill-advised fouls you’ll ever see, the first giving Carolina the lead and the second allowing the Pack new life.
It was in overtime that Paige and Warren’s duel became legendary. Twice in the overtime, Warren, looking like a man among boys, bulldozed his way to the hoop to give State a six point edge. Both times, Paige nailed clutch contested threes to keep the Heels in it. The two of them were eye-to-eye all night. Finally, with the score tied at 83 and 7.7 seconds left, Warren blinked. At the foul line, he missed the first of two free throws, giving Carolina the ball trailing by one. You know what happened next.
Marcus Paige left Raleigh in victory, having collected 35 points (31 after halftime), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and the soul of every Wolfpack fan in attendance that night.