In the aftermath of UNC’s 92-90 overtime loss at Duke on Feb. 18, Paige sat in front of his royal blue locker with a white towel around his neck, answering questions about his team’s inability to close out the Blue Devils. On several occasions, Paige complimented his teammates’ efforts while taking a jab at his own play.
“We had six or seven of our rotation guys playing really well,” Paige said. “With the exception of myself, really everyone came and brought their ‘A’ game.”
A few minutes later, the preseason ACC Player of the Year added this self-directed barb: “Everyone was in it, everyone was playing well – I didn’t play well – but the majority of the team was playing really good basketball.”
His self-criticism was thick and harsh due to what had transpired on the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor in the 2.5 hours prior.
Forwards Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson had combined for 36 points on 15-of-20 shooting and 19 rebounds. Wing J.P. Tokoto paired 15 points and eight rebounds with seven assists and zero turnovers. Reserves Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, Joel Berry and Joel James all provided quality minutes off the bench.
Paige, on the other hand, managed just five points on 2-of-11 shooting with three assists and a pair of turnovers.
The junior guard has built his reputation on delivering in the clutch and showing up for important games. He scored nine of his 13 second-half points in the final 5:30 of UNC’s 74-66 home win over Duke last season before pacing his team with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting in the second meeting at Cameron Indoor.
Paige’s frustration following the most recent loss at Duke provided some insight into his mental approach to the team portion of the game. Rarely does he take a loss well; if he’s not upset over his own performance, he’s vocal about the need for a select few unnamed teammates, or the team in its entirety, to elevate their level of play.
Wins are different. Paige seems to always have a smile on his face after a victory, regardless of how his team may have played. He’s still quick to point out areas of improvement, but the joy of winning is not lost on the Marion, Iowa native.
The 2015 Skip Prosser Award winner, an honor given to the top scholar-athlete in ACC men's basketball, turned in solid performances in recent road wins at Miami and Georgia Tech, scoring 17 points in Coral Gables and pairing four assists with a season-high six steals in Atlanta. He's averaging 13.2 points on the season, although that average has dropped to 9.8 points over his last five outings.
“The last couple of games I’ve done a good job of just taking things as they come,” Paige said following UNC’s 81-49 win over the Yellow Jackets. “Just being relaxed and enjoying this process of having other guys play really well and being a contributor.”
After Paige broke down UNC’s largest victory in Atlanta, the designed scrambles that spurred an early run and the team’s mindset heading into Saturday’s regular season finale against Duke, he was asked about his visible frustration after the first loss in Durham and whether or not he needed to avoid pressing too much in the second meeting.
“I don’t have to be the guy, but I do want to play well,” Paige said. “I realize I didn’t play very well in the Duke game. I’m not going to sit in my room and think about how I have to play super well on Saturday. I’m just going to enjoy the moment of this big matchup.
“It’s our chance to get revenge after losing a 10-point lead, so I’m not looking at it from an individual perspective at all, but I do expect myself to play better this time around.”
In UNC's 21 wins, Paige is averaging 13.7 points on 43.5 percent shooting, including a 41.0 percent effort from 3-point range and 90.8 percent from the free throw line. In nine losses, Paige is averaging 12.2 points on 33.6 percent shooting, including 31.8 percent from long range and 61.9 percent from the charity stripe.
Paige Ready for Rematch
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