KANSAS CITY, Mo. For the second time in three games, Marcus Paige made important shots in the final moments of a tense, tight North Carolina victory.
His clutch play helped lead the Tar Heels against Maryland in the ACC tournament semifinals last weekend, and he perhaps made the most important shot of the game Friday night in UNC’s 78-71 victory against Villanova in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
After Villanova cut North Carolina’s lead to one with 2 minutes, 14 seconds to play, Paige made a 3-pointer from the left wing to push the Tar Heels’ lead back up to four.
“I didn’t really think about it,” Paige said of the shot. “I just kind of reacted and made a basketball play. I know it was pretty early in the shot clock, and if I missed that shot, coach (Roy Williams) probably would have freaked out. I was right in front of him, too. But I was able to knock it down.”
Clutch plays late are starting to become the norm for Paige, who finished with 14 points and four assists.
“I usually am the guy they end up leaving open,” he said. “They don’t want to leave Reggie (Bullock) and P.J. (Hairston), so they end up leaving me, and sometimes I feel like I have to make them pay for that.”
Between the 3:20 mark and when 1:36 remained in the game, Paige scored seven consecutive points for UNC.
Five out, five in: Williams sent a message four minutes into the second half when he removed all five of the Tar Heels’ starters and replaced them with reserves. At the time, Villanova was in midst of erasing a North Carolina lead that had grown as large as large as 20 points with seven minutes remaining in the first half.
“He brought us to the bench to tell us re-focus on the defensive end,” junior guard Reggie Bullock said. “Make some new rotations on defense. Try to get up in them a little bit.”
Williams made a similar move in the second half of his team’s victory against N.C. State on Feb. 23. Then, like on Friday, the message was clear, senior guard Dexter Strickland said.
“We’ve got to get on a roll, we got to get it going,” Strickland said.
Weather watch: With a winter storm watch in effect and Kansas City expecting as much as 6-10 inches of snow beginning Saturday night and continuing into Sunday, the NCAA said it “did not anticipate any game delays” Sunday.
“In Kansas City, all of the teams and officials are already on site,” NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships Dan Gavitt said in a statement.
“We are exploring extending their hotel stays if their travel is delayed after the games because of inclement weather. This region routinely has winter snow and has the appropriate equipment and procedures to manage these winter conditions.”
Etc: The victory was North Carolina’s 25th of the season, and the Tar Heels now have 34 20-win seasons in school history. … Williams improved to 23-0 as a head coach in opening-round NCAA tournament games. … The fourth time in their past six games, the Tar Heels made at least 10 3-pointers.