Adam Gold

The moment Carolina lost control

Posted March 23, 2014
Updated March 24, 2014

Momentum from game to game is a myth. What we most often see within a season or in a playoff series is a team's growing confidence or adjustments in personnel and/or strategy not yet being effectively countered. But momentum? After a three meals, a minimum of a night's rest and often a flight across a time zone? I think not.

Within a game, however, momentum is very real. And, when you have it on your side, it's important to avoid the mistakes that will allow "Uncle Mo" to reconsider his allegiance. With 4:24 to play in North Carolina's eventual loss to Iowa State on Sunday, Kennedy Meeks converted a pass from J.P. Tokoto into a lay-up and a 76-68 lead. It was the continuation of a 20-8 run by the Tar Heels that saw them flip a four-point deficit into the momentum that appeared to be carrying them to Madison Square Garden and a meeting with Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen.

On the other end of the floor, Meeks continued his outstanding night with a steal, giving the Heels the ball and an eight-point lead with just under four minutes left. It was then that UNC would commit the critical error of the game.

Marcus Paige, who for the better part of five months had been one of the best players in the league, if not the nation, attempted an ill-advised three-pointer – with about 30 seconds left on the shot clock – and the miss, followed by a long-range bucket from Cyclones forward Naz Long gave Iowa State belief that they were still in the game.

In certain situations, a good possession, even if it doesn't result in points, is all that you really want. With under four minutes left, an eight-point lead in your back pocket and the momentum of a second half being played exactly the way Roy Williams would have dreamed, a mistake-free finish was all that was necessary to carry UNC to New York City. That uncharacteristic mistake by Paige left the door cracked, and ISU kicked it down.

The Cyclones scored eight straight points, and the lead that took Carolina some six minutes to construct crumbled in just over 100 seconds. Back-to-back three pointers plus a driving lay-up pulled Iowa State even and left momentum in the center circle – up for grabs like a jump ball.

Yes, the Tar Heels would still pull ahead – twice they led by three points, the last coming with 55 seconds to play thanks to a James Michael McAdoo short jumper in the lane. However, the game was now a toss-up, and would be decided by one shot one way or another, and when you consider that the Cyclones scored on seven consecutive possessions to close out the game, well, you know what that means.

Words don't really do justice to Paige's sophomore season. He was the unexpected superstar for Roy Williams' team. As fifth-year senior Leslie McDonald and departed junior P.J. Hairston struggled with their eligibility issues in November and into December, it was Paige who took command of the team and established himself as the unquestioned leader. He led the team in scoring, assists and game-changing plays. He was, along with N.C. State's T.J. Warren, the most irreplaceable player in the ACC. Among Paige's best qualities, as important as his three-point accuracy, defensive prowess and feel for the game, was his incredibly high basketball I.Q. He just didn't make mental mistakes.

That's what made that three-point attempt, not exactly an uncontested look, so strange to see. We can talk about the turnover that led to Iowa State's go-ahead basket, a DeAndre Kane breakaway lay-up, with 27 seconds remaining. We can talk about Paige and his teammates being unaware of Kane's presence – alone – at the other end of the court. And, we can talk about a little bit of a brain freeze that saw the Tar Heels fail to call timeout before there was no time on the clock to stop – though, to be fair, it did appear that Williams was trying to get the attention of referee Tony Greene to no avail.

Too often, it's what happens last that we remember the most. But, in my opinion, the first major error was that quick-trigger, three pointer with four minutes to play that left the door open for the transfer of momentum and once that switch was made it was anyone's game.

Uncle Mo has no loyalty. He's a front runner.

9 Comments

Please to add a comment.

Newest First
View all
  • StunGunn Mar 24, 6:44 a.m.

    Good piece, Adam. You're right about remembering what happens last the most, and unfortunately, the way the Heels let that lead slip away is a tough way to end a season. I'll try to remember this season as one that had the Heels making the Tourney, winning a game, and coming within a whisker of making it to the Sweet 16 after a 1-4 start in the ACC. I'll try, but that loss to Iowa State is a bitter pill.

  • ronhesmer Mar 24, 7:39 a.m.

    "What we most often see within a season, or in a playoff series is more often confidence or a team's adjustments in personnel and/or strategy not yet being effectively countered." Meander much?

  • kato_karma3.5 Mar 24, 11:56 a.m.

    Don't forget Meek's missed put-back attempt. He coulda/shoulda, gathered himself, and gone back up -- or passed the ball back out so the offense could re-set.

  • odell Mar 24, 12:48 p.m.

    Paige's response - "I'd take that shot a thousand times again". Good enough for me over your opinion.

  • flipyas Mar 24, 1:23 p.m.

    Maybe not the best shooting decision ever but it's not a turning point if Carolina plays even a reasonable semblance of defense at the end. Seemed like every time I looked up, there was a wide open 3 point shooter or an ISU player behind the entire Carolina defense.

  • LuvsThePack Mar 24, 2:24 p.m.

    WRAL has plenty from which to choose, but this may be one of the dumbest articles yet.

    No three point attempt from Paige is ill-advised. An eight point lead with four minutes remaining is not even close to guaranteed. Paige was open. He took the shot. He missed. Period. If he had made it, they Holes would have been a great big step closer to sealing the deal. So he missed it. Deal. Players miss occasionally. It's only a bad shot if he was out of position and just heaved up a prayer for no reason. He knew what he was doing, and he did it.

    And it most decidedly was NOT a mistake.

    You need to re-write this article and make it right. This was ridiculous.

  • etrnluth Mar 24, 2:42 p.m.

    When Paige took that 3-pointer and missed, I too got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was a mistake. I would have much rather seen him take it to the hoop with a layup, with at least an opportunity to get fouled. To make matters worse, our defense was extremely poor near the end. It truly was our game to lose, and we did just that.

  • StunGunn Mar 25, 7:18 a.m.

    When Paige took that 3-pointer and missed, I too got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that... View More

    — Posted by etrnluth

    I agree. While Paige is a very accurate 3-point shooter, there was still 30 ticks left of the clock, so he did have time to drive to the basket, with possibly a better chance for the "old-fashioned" three-point play.

    The loss isn't entirely on Paige's miss; like you said, the lack of defense in the waning minutes played a huge part as well.

    To come so close to winning the game is a bitter way to end a season.

  • scousler Mar 26, 1:02 a.m.

    Not often I agree completely with Adam, but he's right, a more seasoned player would have worked for a better shot than the one Paige attempted.

    When playing a very good team like Iowa State, every possession is crucial. Paige may have thought he could salt the game away by making the 3 pointer, and with the lead thought it was worth a gamble. But you don't gamble in a tight match - go with what works. Working for an inside shot would have been a much more sure thing. It also would've prevented the fast break and dish out to an open 3 point gunslinger when Paige missed.

    The game turned on that mistake. I don't think Paige should in any way bear the responsibility for the loss, just hope he learns from that miscue and next time is more patient. Making the right decisions at clutch time is what separates the good from the great players of the game. I'm glad he's taking another year at Carolina to hone those skills some more.

  • CBB: Duke at St. John's

    Today at 1:30 pm on FOX50

  • NBA: Miami at Chicago

    Today at 1:00 pm on 99.9 The Fan

  • ACC: NC State vs. Notre Dame

    Tonight at 6:30 on WRAL-FM

Scoreboard
Local
Final
ECU 64
TULSA 66
Final
UNC 78
FSU 74
Final
NCCU 79
COPST 77
 
Final
CHA 76
NYK 71
2:00pm Today
STJ
DUKE
 
6:30pm Tonight
NCSU
ND
 
Final
CHA 76
NYK 71
Final
MIL 101
DET 86
Final
MEM 101
PHI 83
Final
UTA 108
BRK 73
Final
POR 103
WAS 96
1:00pm Today
CHI
MIA
 
3:30pm Today
CLE
OKC
 
6:00pm Tonight
NOP
DAL
 
6:00pm Tonight
ORL
IND
 
6:00pm Tonight
PHO
LAC
 
6:00pm Tonight
ATL
MIN
 
7:00pm Tonight
TOR
DET
 
7:00pm Tonight
SAN
MIL
 
8:00pm Tonight
GSW
BOS
 
8:00pm Tonight
DEN
WAS
 
9:30pm Tonight
LAL
HOU
 
Final
SENS 13
SENN 34
Final
DREX 53
COC 51
 
Final
XAV 89
DEP 76
Final
PURD 67
IOWA 63
Final
SCAR 43
KENT 58
Final
KYST 63
OKST 53
Final
PSU 79
RUTG 51
Final
ECU 64
TULSA 66
Final
CLEM 59
WAKE 57
Final
HC 76
NAVY 65
 
Final
FUR 82
ALLN 46
 
Final
BU 77
BUCK 92
 
Final
NKENTUCKY 81
JVU 59
 
Final
IUPUI 65
SD 50
 
Final
TENN 61
TEXAM 67
Final
VMI 85
CITA 75
 
Final
INDST 72
LOYC 61
 
Final
WMICH 69
AKR 71
 
Final
MIZZ 60
ARK 61
Final
AFA 68
BSU 77
Final
YALE 69
BRO 65
 
Final
OHIO 63
BUF 61
 
Final
HARV 61
DART 70
 
Final
NEOM 80
DEN 69
 
Final
GWU 74
DUQ 59
Final
KNST 48
FLGC 54
 
Final
UNC 78
FSU 74
Final
TEX 62
KU 75
Final
BST 52
KSU 63
 
Final
LAF 71
LEH 75
 
Final
COL 59
GHND 58
 
Final
WMARY 78
NE 62
 
Final
USCU 91
STET 67
 
Final
WVU 86
TCU 85
Final
MINN 79
ILL 71
Final
MARQ 85
GEOR 95
Final
UGST 75
LALAF 64
 
Final
MNTER 52
RFLSH 40
 
Final
MSST 66
UGA 72
Final
MARS 78
UTEP 71
Final
WKENT 83
TXSA 74
Final
CHIST 41
CALST 57
 
Final
SDU 77
BYU 74
 
Final
WINT 71
CAMP 63
 
Final
TTU 78
ISU 73
Final
HOF 63
JMU 69
 
Final
COOK 70
MDES 74
 
Final
NWST 93
MCNST 67
 
Final
SYR 62
MIAMI 66
Final
NILL 55
UMO 60
 
Final
NEB 79
MSU 77
Final
WYO 63
NMU 62
Final
CCAR 63
PBY 52
 
Final
Terriers 65
RMU 67
 
Final
BRY 66
SHU 83
 
Final
EVAN 75
SILL 66
 
Final
OREG 82
UCLA 64
Final
EILL 52
PEAY 56
 
Final
NCCU 79
COPST 77
 
Final
CMICH 65
EMICH 51
 
Final
RAD 84
LIB 76
 
Final
FD 76
LIU 80
 
Final
MNTST 64
NARZ 71
 
Final
LIP 66
UNF 75
 
Final
EWASH 102
NDAK 80
 
Final
TROY 55
ARKST 64
 
Final
TXST 58
APP 64
 
Final
CSOU 93
GWEBB 80
 
Final
LAMON 53
GSOUT 57
 
Final
ABCHRIST 61
INCWORD 77
 
Final
JVST 63
MORE 66
 
Final
CARK 61
NICST 71
 
Final
UAB 81
ODU 68
Final
SHSU 68
STEPH 79
 
Final
ALAST 84
ALCOR 60
 
Final
MTST 72
CHAR 69
Final
NCAT 52
DELST 67
 
Final
MISS 72
UF 71
Final
SMU 80
HOU 59
Final
FAM 50
HOW 59
 
Final
GRAM 63
JST 74
 
Final
VANDY 75
LSU 79
Final
SCST 63
NORST 76
 
Final
BAY 69
OKLA 58
Final
MVSU 65
PVU 72
 
Final
ARKLR 68
TXARL 75
 
Final
CHAT 81
UNCG 72
 
Final
ORST 59
USC 55
Final
SAV 68
HAMP 66
 
Final
TOL 71
BGU 67
 
Final
UCSB 68
CSFU 49
 
Final
RIDE 59
CAN 46
 
Final
CLMB 47
CORN 57
 
Final
GMAS 73
DAVID 80
Final
ELON 94
DEL 82
 
Final
WOFF 72
ETST 64
 
Final
YOUNG 77
ILLCH 64
 
Final
FRES 66
NEV 62
Final
MAST 77
NDST 71
 
Final
STJOE 52
PENN 56
Final
DAY 63
RICH 60
Final
TENNM 70
SEMIZ 53
 
Final
HIGH 72
UNCA 51
 
Final
CCST 53
WAGN 50
 
Final
SAMF 78
WCU 72
 
Final
MICH 64
WISC 69
Final
UMKC 75
SEAT 55
 
Final
NO 67
TAMCC 71
 
Final
ALAAM 58
SOUTH 65
 
Final
TXPA 73
GRCN 72
 
Final
HOUB 79
LAM 77
 
Final
RICE 45
LATU 58
Final
TULA 55
MEM 57
Final
BRAD 61
MIZST 59
 
Final
SIUE 54
MURST 60
 
Final
GONZ 91
PAC 60
Final
UNT 71
SMISS 75
Final
ORU 72
SDKST 76
 
Final
UNCW 69
TOWS 65
 
Final
UNLV 79
UTST 77
Final
COL 90
WASU 58
Final
ALA 57
AUB 55
Final
ARKPB 66
TXSOU 62
 
Final
WEBER 71
SACST 78
 
Final
MONT 58
SUTAH 56
 
Final
NMST 69
WLVRN 44
 
Final
IDST 80
PORST 76
 
Final
TENT 83
EKENT 81
 
Final
CSNO 58
LBSU 64
 
Final
USF 69
LMU 70
 
Final
IDAHO 83
NCOL 79
 
Final
COLST 79
SDST 73
Final
PORT 64
GAELS 74
 
Final
CPSL 68
UCR 49
 
Final
CAL 50
ARZ 73
Final
SCU 60
PEPP 57
 
Final
STAN 89
ARST 70
Final
HAW 72
UCI 78
 
12:00pm Today
UCONN
SFLA
 
1:00pm Today
GT
BC
 
1:00pm Today
VT
UVA
 
1:30pm Today
OSU
IND
 
2:00pm Today
UCF
CIN
 
2:00pm Today
WICHS
DRAK
 
2:00pm Today
STJ
DUKE
 
2:00pm Today
MAR
FAIR
 
2:00pm Today
HART
MAINE
 
2:00pm Today
MAN
MON
 
2:00pm Today
PRIN
ROWAN
 
2:00pm Today
SIENA
PETE
 
2:00pm Today
RIU
BONA
 
2:00pm Today
BING
USB
 
2:00pm Today
MLOWELL
VERM
 
3:00pm Today
BUT
SHU
 
3:05pm Today
SALA
YALE
 
4:00pm Today
PITT
LOU
 
4:00pm Today
ILLST
NIOWA
 
4:30pm Today
IONA
NIAG
 
4:30pm Today
GTDNS
UMBC
 
6:30pm Tonight
TENST
BEL
 
6:30pm Tonight
NCSU
ND
 
7:00pm Tonight
VILL
CREI
 
7:30pm Tonight
MD
NW
 
8:30pm Tonight
UTAH
WASH
 
5:00pm Tonight
TEAMFOLI
TEAMTOEWS
 
8:15pm Tonight
CARTER
IRVIN