CHAPEL HILL — Back in Chapel Hill after a night to remember: North Carolina 85, N.C. State 84.
This is a rivalry that has been lost in some ways, and set aside. Yet the Tar Heels and Wolfpack provided a reminder of what was on Wednesday night, when they played one of the great games in the recent history of the series. Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels’ sophomore guard, won it with a layup with less than a second to play. He finished with 35 points. T.J. Warren, the Wolfpack’s sophomore forward, scored 36.
--From Chip Alexander, the story of the game.
--From columnist Luke DeCock, a story on Paige and Warren, whose back-and-forth has to rank up one of the greatest in ACC history.
--From Joe Giglio, a story about more Wolfpack heartbreak after another slow finish.
--And, from me, a story about Marcus Paige.
And some thoughts:
THREE THINGS TO TAKE AWAY FROM THE TAR HEELS’ VICTORY:
1. It was an epic UNC-State game.
UNC and N.C. State have played 226 times now. I don’t know where the game from last night ranks, or even how you’d go about ranking that kind of thing. Was it among the top 25 games in history? Top 20. I don’t know. What I do know: It was pretty much about as good as college basketball gets. Tons of intensity. Great individual performances. Back and forth drama. Late-game heroics. What more could you ask for? Predictably, there has been a good deal of griping about the officials. And they blew some calls. But the game wasn’t decided by the refs. Paige decided it, and ended it with his layup with less than a second left.
2. The Tar Heels won without their best, again.
Is UNC becoming a great team? Probably too early to tell. But great teams win without their best, and the Tar Heels did that on Wednesday night. As great as Paige was, he didn’t have a ton of help at times. After two strong games, Leslie McDonald struggled. James Michael McAdoo went 2-for-11 from the field and finished with eight points and seven rebounds. J.P. Tokoto, the sophomore forward, might have had his best overall game – 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists – but he had leg cramp issues late. The Tar Heels, one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, were outscored in second chance points, and they struggled at times from the free throw line again. Yet they found a way, again, to beat a desperate team.
3. Paige has inserted himself into the ACC Player of the Year race.
UNC has now won 10 consecutive games, and the Tar Heels are 11-4 in the ACC after their 1-4 start. McAdoo was UNC’s best player early in that streak. But as of late, it has been Paige, who now has two 30-point scoring games this season (the other coming in a 32-point performance in a victory against Louisville). You could make an argument that no player in the ACC has been as important to his team’s success than Paige has to UNC. People doubted this team after it lost P.J. Hairston. After the 1-4 start in the ACC, some UNC fans had their team already booked for the NIT. And yet here we are. Paige has carried the Tar Heels at times this season – and he’s often carried them in the second half. Now he’s joined a wide open player of the year race.
N.C. State won three of the four: shooting percentage, turnover percentage, getting to the free throw line. UNC held the advantage in offensive rebounding, but the Tar Heels didn’t take full advantage of that. Statistically, the Wolfpack outplayed the Tar Heels. Yet they found a way.
Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Hokies are, without question, one of the worst ACC teams in recent memory. Their only two conference victories came against Miami. Which beat UNC. So I guess you never know.