Playing against his home state’s flagship program in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Paige scored 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting, including a 3-of-12 effort from 3-point range. He missed six of his seven shots after halftime.
His final 3-pointer came several feet behind the arc over Aaron White, Iowa’s 6-foot-9 forward.
“It was a decent look,” Paige told reporters following the game. “I rushed it a little bit because I didn’t have a chance to really check the clock when I got the ball. Everything happened so quickly. I would have liked to have gotten my feet under me – it was kind of deep – but I just rushed it too much.”
Iowa played man defense for most of the night, and according to head coach Fran McCaffery, Paige was the only UNC perimeter player his staff marked for outside shooting on the weak side. For everyone else, the Hawkeye defender was instructed to collapse into the lane to help with post defense.
“He’s such an incredible late game player,” McCaffery said. “He’ll take a game over all by himself late, so we didn’t want him to be the guy.”
Paige earned his preseason ACC Player of the Year and All-America honors by being that guy in 2013-14. Seven games into his junior year, though, the Marion, Iowa native is still searching for the consistent offensive production needed to elevate UNC to a top-10 squad.
For the season, Paige is averaging 14.9 points on 35.3 percent shooting (36.0 percent from 3). Given UNC’s limited perimeter options and Brice Johnson’s early-season struggles, that low of a shooting percentage will make it difficult for UNC to find enough offense against quality competition.
Paige missed 12 of his 17 field goal attempts in UNC’s loss to Butler last week before responding with a season-high 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the 22-point win over UCLA.
“Our team needs me to do it because that’s how we play,” Paige said. “That’s how we’re going to play. And if I’m not producing, that’s one focal point of our offense that’s not rolling.”
The preferred approach is for Paige to work within the structure of the offense to find efficient scoring opportunities. Instead, Paige at times has been forced to be a volume scorer due to UNC’s inability to generate offense.
The Tar Heels rank 240th nationally in effective field goal percentage (46.2), according to kenpom.com.
Paige has especially relied on the 3-point shot of late, shooting 10 or more in three of UNC’s last four games.
“I got a lot of decent looks tonight, especially early,” Paige said of his perimeter shots. “I made a couple; missed more than I made. When I’m playing point guard or when I have the ball in my hands, I need to stop taking contested threes and work the offense a little bit more.”
Paige’s track record demands the full attention of UNC’s opponents, and that’s what he’s received to date, placing the onus on his teammates to provide some help.
“We’ve got to get him open and then we have to step up better,” freshman wing Justin Jackson said. “I know for me individually, I have to shoot the ball better. And then as a team, we’ve all got to step up, because from what he’s done, they’re going to focus in on him.”
On Wednesday, an off night by Paige without a quality offensive output by his supporting cast resulted in UNC shooting below 28 percent (27.9) for just the fifth time in school history and for the second time since 1956.
Paige Seeking Better Production
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