A relatively boring first half of basketball turned into the Marcus Paige and T.J. Warren show down the stretch.
Warren scored 26 of his 36 points after halftime, but he was bested by Paige, who netted 29 of his 33 points after the break, including a layup with 0.9 seconds left in overtime as the No. 19 Tar Heels knocked off the Wolfpack, 85-84, on Tuesday night.
Paige has developed a pretty impressive reputation for these kinds of late-game exploits, having overcome slow first halves to make wining play after winning play in wins over Duke and Florida State in the past two weeks. He went through a lull at the start of ACC play where he was not shooting the ball well, but ever since Roy Williams slid Nate Britt to the bench and started using Paige as his primary ball-handler, the Heels have been winning.
Saturday was their tenth in a row. Paige is averaging 18.9 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 46.0% from three during that stretch.
Before I move on to N.C. State, it’s worth noting that J.P. Tokoto was tremendous for UNC. He had 18 points, 11 boards and five assists, which helped make up for the fact that Leslie McDonald and James Michael McAdoo were a combined 3-for-16.
This loss is a heartbreaker for the Wolfpack, as it all but seals up their trip to the NIT. Mark Gottfried’s club was in a tough spot as it was, likely needing to win out in order to have a shot at stealing an at-large bid, but with the number of bubble teams that seem averse to winning games, picking up a win over North Carolina would have gotten them right back into the conversation.
It’s a shame as well, because the nation finally got a prolonged look at just how good T.J. Warren can be when he gets hot. Those 36 points came in a game where he made just a single three-pointer. He’s not a great defender and he doesn’t create much offense for anyone else, but the kid can flat out get buckets.