UNC picking up the slack amid Paige’s shooting slump

The shots will fall, Marcus Paige said on Saturday. Eventually they’ll go in. He’s confident of that.

Once again, though, North Carolina during its 82-74 victory against No. 12 Ohio State were forced to find offense outside of Paige, the junior guard who made just four of his 12 shots from the field. It has often been that way for No. 24 UNC, which hasn’t benefited from the production Paige provided a season ago.

Through the Tar Heels’ first 10 games, Paige is averaging 13.4 points – about four fewer than he did a season ago. He’s shooting about 10 percentage points worse – 34.7 percent from the field this season, compared to 44 percent last season.

Entering the season, Paige acknowledged on Saturday, he thought he still might have to carry UNC’s scoring load. Those thoughts have changed, given the increased production from forwards Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, both of whom have led the Tar Heels in scoring at various points.

“With the transformation of Kennedy and the maturation of Brice, I don’t necessarily have to (score a lot),” Paige said on Saturday. “I still need to pick it up, though.”

Against Ohio State, UNC played with the kind of offensive balance that should be a team strength. Six players finished with at least eight points – including Paige, who had 16.

Overall, UNC’s scoring is no more balanced than it was last season. Five players averaged at least nine points per game then, same as now.

The difference, though, is that Meeks and Johnson and others – junior J.P. Tokoto, for instance – seem more capable of leading the offense. Which takes pressure of Paige.

Even so, his teammates – and coach Roy Williams – have been waiting for Paige to get going. He has shot well in stretches – like in the second half of a loss at Kentucky – but consistency has been elusive.

“I’ve never seen Marcus Paige miss as many open shots as he had in the second half, and two layups,” Williams said on Saturday. “But I still think that says a lot about how good we can be because eventually he’s going to start really playing.”