Last man standing
Posted February 27
Seriously, in the event of an enormous number of typographical errors please blame the adrenaline coursing through my veins thanks to the, just completed T.J. Warren-Marcus Paige scoring bonanza. It was Bernard King vs Isaiah Thomas in Game 5 of the NBA's Eastern Conference opening round series in 1984. It was a magnificent duel.
I may never wash my eyes again.
Warren, the ACC's leading point producer, scored a career-high 36 points -- 26 in the second half and overtime -- on runners, floaters, drives, dunks, pull-ups and nine of 13 free throws. Yet it wasn't enough, because Paige, who has a nasty reputation for lighting his opponents on fire after halftime, rained three-pointers on the Wolfpack over the final 25 minutes. All seven of Paige's long-range shots came in the second half and overtime as the Tar Heels won their 10th straight, in one of the wildest, renewals in the 100-plus years of this rivalry.
State controlled the first half, getting a remarkable performance from freshman wide-body BeeJay Anya, whose eight points and emotionally charged play took the heat off Warren, who had to work very hard against Carolina's J.P. Tokoto for all of his 10 points before the break. And, it was Anya's dunk nearing the midway point of the second half that nearly blew the roof off PNC Arena as the Wolfpack seemed to answer a Carolina run giving State a 44-38 lead.
From that point on, Paige went into hyperspace, rifling in 3-pointers from everywhere. He drained five in a row from beyond the arc, scoring 17 points in the last 10:51 of the half -- AND THAT WASN'T ENOUGH TO WIN THE GAME. Because Warren scored 16 points in the same period of time, in spite of spending about four minutes on the bench after picking up his fourth foul of the game with 8:01 remaining.
Then it got weird. With 10 seconds left, Warren was driving to the basket when it appeared that he may have been fouled, or had the ball knocked away by James Michael McAdoo, or he was fouled, or he lost control of the ball, or he was fouled -- one of those -- and when Tokoto grabbed the ball, he was fouled by Tyler Lewis. We'll spend weeks arguing that sequence and no one wearing red will be satisfied with the end of the conversation, but the free throws gave North Carolina a 2-point lead with less than four seconds on the clock.
Wait, you thought the last sequence was strange? How about the fact that Leslie McDonald fouled Warren 50 feet away from the ball, holding the scoring machine, as Lewis was readying an inbounds pass for a desperation shot with less than 2 seconds on the clock.
Yep, that happened.
Warren, made both free throws, tying the game and sending it into an improbable -- albeit justifiable -- overtime, even though State allowed Paige an off-balance jumper at the horn.
I needed a cup of chamomile tea. A game that started out without much flow, with a combined 29 points scored in the first 11 minutes, erupted into one of the greatest two-man shows I've ever seen in a college basketball game. It was such a series of haymakers I could hear my heart beating.
While Paige was missing his first three shots of the extra period, an ill-advised jumper and a pair of contested lay-ups, Warren was scoring six straight points to put the Wolfpack up 77-71. Though T.J. did miss a free throw that would have made it a three possession game, the Pack had reclaimed the momentum and the crowd was in a lather.
The only problem was that Paige was still alive. The 175-pounder from Marion, Iowa put away his shoeshine box and got back to work, and the machine-gun style scoring resumed. Paige swished a three-pointer to quiet the building. But, after a Roy Williams time out, State's Ralston Turner splashed in one of his own, pushing the lead back to six and my heart rate into the red. Nine seconds later Paige fed Brice Johnson for a lay up to cut the lead to four before Warren drove past a helpless (hapless?) McAdoo for a lay in and another six point cushion.
That lasted all of 10 seconds until Paige's final three pointer of the night brought about the last of Roy Williams' time outs (wait, what? Roy was out of time outs? This was a strange night.). Still, the Wolfpack were leading by three 85 seconds away from a win they absolutely had to have.
With 40 seconds to go, after a pair of free throws by Paige drew Carolina within 83-81, NC State inbounded the ball to Warren in the left corner of the back court and into serious trouble. McAdoo and Tokoto executed a trap, and ultimately forced Warren into a turnover, knocking the ball out of bounds off Warren's shoulder, giving the Heels the ball and 36.9 seconds with which to work.
They didn't need that long. Nate Britt fed McAdoo for a quick lay up for the tying basket and the Wolfpack were setting up for the last shot. But, they never needed it. With 7.7 seconds left, McAdoo fouled Warren away from the ball and the State sophomore was at the line in position to give his team the lead once again. Unfortunately Warren, an improved-yet-still imperfect free throw shooter, converted only one of the two, thus leaving the door open for what happened next.
Paige, took the inbounds pass, dribbled up the right side of the floor, used a solid screen and cut to the left around three Wolfpack defenders, and when his stretched out, left-handed lay up settled in the net, North Carolina escaped with an 85-84 win while the Wolfpack were left with their second last-second, gut punch of a defeat in the last two weeks. If you thought the loss in Syracuse was hard to stomach, you'd miss a week of work dealing with this one.
I know it's hard for anyone who bleeds red to see through the fog, but this was one of the great scoring showdowns in the last two decades of ACC basketball. Warren scored 36, with 17 in the second half and nine more in the overtime. Paige had 35 for the game, also a career best, with 21 in the second half and a staggering 10 more in the extra period.
More importantly, Paige had the ball last, and with two great players in the proverbial zone, sometimes the guy who takes the last shot has the last laugh.
That player was Marcus Paige.