The person least worried about the way Marcus Paige is playing is Marcus Paige, although coach Roy Williams and Paige’s teammates aren’t far behind. Still, this is unprecedented in Paige’s illustrious career at North Carolina, to the point where Williams is considering some new coaching techniques to get his best player on track.
Like voodoo. Or something.
“I’m going to go get a crystal ball and put a wig on and some incense – is that what it is, the smoke stuff? – and see if I can go chant something and figure it out,” Williams said after Paige had two points on 1-for-8 shooting in Wednesday’s 83-68 win against Wake Forest.
The time for desperate measures has arrived. Paige was less than six minutes away from being shut out entirely as his scoring and shooting slump, the worst of his four years in Chapel Hill, stretched out to a third game.
Paige’s message afterward was the same as it was after Saturday’s win against N.C. State, which is that the Tar Heels don’t need him to score right now and he’ll be ready when they do. And yet he was considerably more subdued delivering that message than he had been Saturday afternoon.
“I’m still not mad that I’m missing shots,” Paige said. “I’m going to make shots. Last game, I was a little upset. I got back-doored one time. I missed a box-out. Stuff like that, I can’t accept. Tonight, I’m cool because I had a pretty good game defensively, didn’t have any turnovers, we won. I’m not tripping about any of that.”
It’s not like anyone saw this coming, but after a 30-point outburst at Florida State, Paige has scored three, three and two points in wins against Syracuse, N.C. State and Wake Forest on 3-for-25 shooting, 1-for-17 from 3-point range. This is the lowest-scoring three-game stretch of Paige’s career, beating the previous low of 12 set early in his freshman year. Even then, he was more accurate, 4-for-24 from the floor.
Paige pointed out a stretch at the beginning of ACC play during his sophomore year when he struggled to score, but that wasn’t like this. Never like this. If the second half of a game against N.C. State – the intersection of the two most powerful Paige personas, Second Half Marcus and the Wolfpack’s worst nemesis – couldn’t shake him loose, what will? Turning to the occult?
“I don’t know,” Williams said. “I guess they pay me a lot of money to say I don’t know, but I’ve never had a player that I’ve had more confidence in in my entire life than Marcus Paige. But the ball’s not going in the basket right now.”
It’s baffling, because Paige’s shot looks good. It just isn’t going in. His one basket Wednesday was a layup with his right hand, his off hand, after knifing across the lane, and even that hung interminably on the front of the rim before finally falling in.
He missed all five 3-pointers he took, and he was willing to keep taking them, and his teammates would have been happy to see him do it.
“I think everybody, y’all included, would say when he shoots the ball, it looks good,” North Carolina’s Theo Pinson said. “It’s not like, ‘Eww, why did he shoot that?’ It looks good every time it comes off his hand.”
Nothing like this has ever happened like this in Paige’s career.
No player is immune to bad luck or temporarily misaligned sights, but everything in Paige’s history would suggest an aptitude for turning the corner quickly. He always has. And still, one game became two became three.
Paige is right that North Carolina hasn’t needed him lately, but the Tar Heels shot a dismal 26.5 percent from the field in the second half Wednesday. A better opponent could have made something of that. Others are unlikely to be as generous.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock