For about eight minutes on Wednesday night, it looked like No. 7 North Carolina was going to have front row seats for the Cat Barber show.
With 12 minutes left in the first half, the Wolfpack had taken a 23-10 lead on the Tar Heel courtesy of 16 points from Barber. By the final TV timeout of the half, UNC had retaken the lead, and by the time their run was done, Roy Williams’ club would be up 38-29.
The Tar Heels would go on to extend that lead to 19 points in the second half, and while Barber finished with 32 points, six boards and three assists, it was mostly irrelevant; N.C. State never really felt like they were a threat to win this game, which is more or less the story of the Wolfpack season.
But the story here isn’t what N.C. State’s star did Wednesday.
It’s what UNC’s star didn’t do.
Marcus Paige was unimpressive once again for the Tar Heels. He had 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting. Since scoring 30 points at Florida State early in ACC play, the senior has played 12 games and reached double-figures in just five of them. He’s averaging just 9.0 points during that stretch, shooting a paltry 31.3 percent from the floor and 27.1 percent from three.
And that, as much as anything, is why North Carolina has been underwhelming over the course of the last three or four weeks. As good as North Carolina is, this is not a team that’s overflowing in pros. Brice Johnson is a borderline first round pick. Kennedy Meeks is going to play a long time overseas. Justin Jackson might get drafted when he eventually decides to come out.
Then there was Paige. For a while, during his sophomore season, he looked like a dude that was going to have a great college career and get a shot at the NBA simply because he was such a prolific college scorer. But he wasn’t that guy last year. And he hasn’t been close to that guy this year.
And I just wonder if the Tar Heels can ever come close to approaching their ceiling if he continues to play the way that he’s played of late.