North Carolina won again on Saturday without much out of Marcus Paige, its dynamic senior guard, and without much – for that matter – out of Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson, too.
“It just speaks to our depth, like I’ve been talking about the last couple of games,” Paige said.
The Tar Heels won at the beginning of the season without Paige, who missed the Tar Heels’ first six games while recovering from a broken bone in his right hand. And they’re winning now without much scoring from him.
Paige scored three points in UNC’s victory at Syracuse Jan. 8, and he finished with three points again during his team’s 67-55 victory against N.C. State on Saturday. But while UNC has proven it can win with little from Paige, the Tar Heels are usually at their best when he’s at his best.
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And he believes he will be again in a matter of time. After the victory against the Wolfpack on Saturday, Paige shook off his slump and had a little fun with the thought that he was in a “funk” – which is how a question earlier in the week about his performance at Syracuse described it.
“Somebody jinxed me at the press conference yesterday, talking about if I was in a funk or not because of the way I played at Syracuse,” Paige said with a laugh on Saturday. “So they jinxed me, so I’d like to thank them for that. … But I’ll be fine.”
In UNC’s past two games, Paige has made two of his 17 attempts from the field. Most of his misses have come from behind the 3-point line, where he was a combined 1-for-12 against Syracuse and N.C. State.
Before the game on Saturday against the Wolfpack, Paige said he had been shooting in practice as well as he had all season. All the misses, though, left him afterward with something that has been somewhat rare since his sophomore season: a scoring game in the single digits.
It has been less often that Paige scores in single digits in consecutive games. This is the first time that’s happened since last February, when he scored 13 points combined in consecutive losses at Pittsburgh and Duke.
The last time he has scored so few points in back-to-back games was three years ago, when he also scored six points, total, in consecutive games against Duke and Miami in February 2013. Paige was a freshman then, still going through the normal adjustments to the college game.
Since then he has become one of UNC’s most trusted perimeter shooters and one of its most valued scorers. And yet during these past two games, he hasn’t been forcing shots or making a point to try to get back into a rhythm. He has remained patient, believing the shots will fall again soon enough.
“I’m not missing left to right, I’m missing short and long,” Paige said on Saturday. “So I’ll figure it out. This week leading into the game in workouts and stuff, I shot better than I’d shot all year. … I’m not too worried about it.”