A freshman growth spurt
Posted February 23, 2013
Updated February 24, 2013
Coaches love to say that there are no freshman come March. It's a cute cliche, and I'm not sure it always applies, but I know this much; Marcus Paige grew up a ton in four weeks.
On Jan. 26, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, Paige was like a teenager on a date with Kate Upton in Carolina's 91-83 loss to the Wolfpack. He looked terrified, and played worse, scoring just seven points while turning it over three times in 29 nervous minutes. In a season where North Carolina isn't blessed with their usual array of first-round NBA draft talent, the only way the Heels are going to be a factor is if all of their better players are contributing something positive to the cause. Slideshow: UNC pulls away from NC State late in 76-65 win
Four weeks later, it was a totally different story for the first year player from Marion, Iowa.
Paige scored all 14 of his points in the second half as the Tar Heels picked up their best win of the season, a 76-65 victory over rival NC State that will go a long way towards cementing UNC as an NCAA Tournament team.
Saturday was a lot more than statistics for Paige. While his eight assist, three steal and zero turnover performance screams out for attention, it was as much the timing of his contributions that were as telling as anything you'd find in a box score.
With the Tar Heels on the ropes a bit after gagging away a 10-point, second half lead, Paige re-entered the game in what amounted to a Carolina blue line change. A careless, mistake-filled 3 1/2 minute stretch had allowed the Pack to run off a 13-2 spurt and suddenly it appeared that NC State had assumed control of the game. But Paige, the only real offensive threat in a make-shift line up on the floor at the time, drilled a left-wing three-pointer putting Carolina back on top by two and the Wolfpack momentum was stalled.
Five and a half minutes later, Paige buried another long-range jumper giving Carolina a 57-55 lead that would never be relinquished. That shot was the start of a stretch in which Paige scored 10 points, made four of five free throws and thoroughly outplayed his much more heralded opponent, Wolfpack point guard Lorenzo Brown. In all, the freshman, who just four weeks ago looked as though he couldn't draw a breath against State, played with poise and confidence and provided 11 points, a steal and an assist in a decisive 27-8 explosion that lifted North Carolina into third place in the ACC standings with four games to play.
Reggie Bullock was excellent for UNC. His 22 points and career best 13 rebounds were critical to the cause for the Tar Heels tonight. P.J. Hairston continues to be a star-in-the-making with a dozen points and a defensive effort on State forward Calvin Leslie that contributed to the pre-season player of the year's six-point, six-turnover debacle. And, James Michael McAdoo held his own against Wolfpack senior bruiser Richard Howell with a 14-point, seven-rebound night.
But, when Roy Williams and his coaching staff review this game, they're going to see that it was largely the timely excellence of Paige, the freshman, that was instrumental in that final 10-minute surge and a major factor between winning and losing.
You can grow up an awful lot in four weeks. Paige is proof of that.