The 2013-14 North Carolina Tar Heels were a team that had a lot of questions asked about it. Among the most popular that year: “Why can’t they make their free throws?!” “Are PJ and Leslie ever going to play?” “Which team is going to show up today; the one that beat Sparty or the one that lost to Belmont?”
But the question that was asked the most was; “What on earth happens to Marcus Paige at halftime?!” Time and time again that season, Marcus Paige would be a relative no-show in the first half, then come out of the halftime locker room looking like the second coming of Steph Curry. Was there a phone booth in the locker room? Did Al Pacino give the halftime speech? Or did Marcus just decide it was winning time? Whatever the reason, #5 in blue getting the job done after the intermission was the one thing you could rely on in a season where nothing made sense.
Coming into the game in Raleigh, the previously hectic Tar Heels seemed to have found their footing: They had won nine in a row, the last two being a classic home win over Duke and a wire-to-wire beating of Wake Forest. Ranked #19, they were back in the polls after a catastrophic 1-4 start to ACC play. NC State, meanwhile, was 7-7 in conference play and hunting desperately for a signature win to build an NCAA bid. They were led by the brilliant TJ Warren, who had up until this point essentially been to his team what Samwise Gamgee had been to Frodo on the slopes of Mount Doom.
Before a raucous PNC Arena, the Wolfpack jumped out early, building a 26-15 lead midway through the first half. Paige was hounded by the State defense, only finishing with 4 points by intermission. The Heels were able to get some scoring from JP Tokoto and Kennedy Meeks, but were largely stagnant on offense. Warren, meanwhile was having his way with Tar Heel defenders, beating them both off the dribble and with his shot. At the half, State led 34-26.
That’s when “Second-Half Marcus” emerged yet again (I consider it one of the great failures of Carolina fandom that we weren’t able to come up with a better nickname than that). Paige started off by attacking the basket off the dribble, then found his rhythm from deep. Over and over again, State seemed poised to put the game out of reach. Over and over again, Marcus answered. By the seven minute mark, UNC had taken its first lead, 53-52.
Back and forth the two teams went, neither able to get distance from the other. At the 1:05 mark, Paige nailed a three-pointer to give the Heels a 69-66 lead. Warren answered with a three of his own. Carolina couldn’t score on the following possession, and State had chance to win it at the horn. Warren drove (too early, I might add) for the hoop but was blocked by James Michael McAdoo.
In the battle for the ball, Paige was fouled by Tyler Lewis with 3.6 seconds left, sending UNC to the line. Paige nailed both and State was looking at going the length of the court...until Leslie McDonald committed a terrible dead ball foul on TJ Warren, who tied the game at the line. Paige missed a last second heave and the game went to OT.
Overtime went much as the game did: Warren unleashed a salvo of knockout punches, building the State lead to 82-76 at the 1:30 mark. Paige drilled another three to cut the lead to three right away. Missed free throws by State and two buckets by UNC drew the game even at 83 with 36 seconds left. Warren was fouled on the ensuing possession, missing one of two free throws and leaving the door open with 7.7 seconds left...
I’m gonna just leave this here:
Paige finished with 35 points, 31 coming in the second half and overtime. Warren, whose desperation heave fell short at the buzzer, ended with 36 of his own, in what would have been an all-time Wolfpack performance. The Tar Heels had their 10th straight victory and Paige had his signature moment.