RALEIGH – As North Carolina guard Marcus Paige came off a high ball screen, he expected to run into a defender or two, especially after he dueled N.C. State T.J. Warren in a final few minutes fit for a heavyweight prize fight.
There was no one at the top of the key, and the help defense was a step behind. Paige drove the lane, looked for contact and extended his left hand Tuesday.
Paige ruined N.C. State’s upset bid, scoring 10 of North Carolina’s 14 overtime points including the final basket as the 19th-ranked Tar Heels stretched their winning streak to 10 games with an 85-84 victory at PNC Arena.
“I think my teammates and I both knew that the way the game was going, the ball needed to be in my hands, whether I was going to shoot it myself or make something happen,” Paige said. “Once I saw the window, the rest is history.”
Paige finished with 35 points and for the 12th time this season he scored double figures in the second half after scoring less than four points in the first half. All the way, especially late, he dueled Warren, who finished with a career-high 36 points.
Warren scored seven of 13 points in the overtime period for N.C. State (17-11, 7-8 ACC), which has now lost three of its past four and has fallen dangerously close to missing the NCAA Tournament.
The two scorers, who have known each other from years of playing AAU basketball against one other, put on a show for the rowdy Wolfpack crowd hoping for an upset.
It was Paige who made one more play – albeit
because it was the last play.
“I felt like the rim was this big in the second half,” Paige said as he opened his arms in as wide a circle as possible.
North Carolina (21-7, 11-4), which pulled into third place in the conference with the victory, fell behind by six points with three minutes to go in the overtime period.
Paige knocked down a three-pointer from the wing and then hit another three after Brice Johnson scored on the inside.
Warren was equal to the task until the final seconds.
Ahead by two points, Warren was forced into a turnover by the North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo, who could have been called for a foul on the play. McAdoo immediately hit the game-tying lay-up, and after Warren missed one of two free throws, Paige had a chance to make a statement.
“Marcus Paige is not going to win many fights,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I’d hate to see him in a fight, but by golly, I’d love to have him in my fox hole because I want tough people. He’s as tough a little sucker as I’ve ever seen.”
North Carolina won its 16th game in 17 tries against its rival.
“I don’t know what it is about us, but they really hate us,” said Paige, who spelled his first name after the game, answering the questions from the Wolfpack fans of whether he could. “It feels good for them to have the game in their hand and for us to show resilience and come and take it.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com