Marcus Paige forever has N.C. State’s attention.
One of the best performances in the 103-year history of the Tar Heels-Wolfpack rivalry, which Paige pulled off in 2014, earns that kind of respect.
The Wolfpack (10-7, 0-4 ACC) will pay extra attention to the North Carolina senior guard on Saturday, but that’s not all coach Mark Gottfried is worried about.
No. 5 UNC (15-2, 4-0), one of the deepest teams in the country and one of the best on offense, has too many options just to focus in on Paige.
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“When you look at their team, (Paige) is a big part of it, but they also have a lot of other weapons, too, this year,” Gottfried said. “It’s probably the deepest and best team that I’ve seen them have since I’ve been here in Raleigh.”
Since Paige went for 35 points in an 85-84 overtime win at N.C. State on Feb. 26, 2014, he has topped N.C. State’s scouting reports. Paige had 26 points in last year’s game at N.C. State, an 81-79 Carolina win.
But Gottfried relied on what he calls “know your personnel” defensive strategy in last year’s 58-46 win at Chapel Hill. Paige made 12 3-pointers in the two games against N.C. State before last year’s game on Feb. 24 at the Smith Center.
Their talent runs pretty deep this year.
NC State coach Mark Gottfried on UNC
N.C. State sloughed off Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto and Nate Britt, daring them to beat them, and swarmed Paige every time he touched the ball, often doubling him off of screens.
Paige, who was dealing with various injuries last season, finished with seven points with only one 3-pointer.
Gottfried dismissed the value in trying to extrapolate anything from last year’s game in Chapel Hill for this one.
“Last year stands alone by itself,” Gottfried said. “I think the fact that we went over there and won maybe that give us some confidence, but that’s not going to have a whole lot of bearing on what happens this year.”
To Gottfried’s point, N.C. State’s personnel is significantly different. Guards Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner combined for 28 of the Wolfpack’s 58 points in last year’s game. Turner graduated, and Lacey turned pro.
Sophomore forward BeeJay Anya, who has been in a bit of a funk of late, is back for N.C. State, and Gottfried is hopeful Anya can recapture his form from that game. Anya blocked six shots and was a key reason N.C. State held the Tar Heels to the fewest points they ever scored at the Smith Center.
UNC hasn’t had many roster changes since the game. Tokoto left early for the NBA, but Paige and forward Brice Johnson both came back for their senior years.
Gottfried noted on Thursday that both veterans have boosted their draft stock by returning to school. He called them the “poster children” for staying in school.
“The decision for them to become seniors has been unbelievable for them, and North Carolina, obviously,” Gottfried said.
Johnson’s emergence, in particular, makes any strategy focused on Paige a folly. Johnson leads the Tar Heels with 16.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
And when Syracuse made the mistake of swarming Johnson, he had a career-high eight assists in an 84-73 win for the Heels.
Paige, who missed the first six games with a hand injury, is second on the team at 15.1 points per game. UNC has four more players who average double-figure points.
Gottfried called them the deepest team in the country.
“Their talent runs pretty deep this year,” Gottfried said.
Definitely deeper than just one star player.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio