CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Marcus Paige’s impact in his season debut against No. 2 Maryland on Tuesday was felt beyond his stat line.
The senior All-American guard, who missed UNC’s first six game due to a broken right hand, scored a team-high 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including a 4-of-5 effort from 3-point range. Paige added five assists, two rebounds, two steals and two drawn charges in a team-high 34 minutes.
His return not only provided energy, but opportunity, for his teammates. UNC shot better than 50 percent in both halves for the first time this season, and the team’s 53.2 percent field goal percentage for the game was also a season-high.
“Teams usually just key in on him because he’s a great scorer,” senior forward Brice Johnson said after the game. “They don’t want him to get hot, which he did [on Tuesday]. It opened it up for everybody else. They were worried about him more than they were worried about everybody else. They were worried about him running off the 3-point line, shooting jumpers. He was getting everywhere he wanted to get.”
Sophomore point guard Joel Berry and sophomore wing Justin Jackson both tied season-lows in field goal attempts (7), while Johnson and junior center Kennedy Meeks combined to shoot 56.5 percent from the floor (13-of-23).
“Offensively, he attracts pretty much the whole team,” Jackson said. “Whenever he does that, it’s just wide-open shots for you. Our bigs, they did a really good job of getting deep post position [on Tuesday], so they had some easy buckets. And for us, we’ve just got to keep playing off him…
“It was great to see him come out as hot as he did. We’re just happy to have him back.”
Berry told reporters that while his role has not changed with Paige in the lineup, the senior’s wealth of knowledge and understanding of what Roy Williams wants is a valuable benefit.
“He can score the ball, so it takes a lot of pressure off us,” Berry said. “We were having to do things when he was out that we normally don’t do. I just felt like the flow of the game was awesome and everyone got lost in the game.”
The Tar Heels finally looked like the top team in the country against the Terrapins, although Williams indicated after the game that he would need two or three more outings to see if Paige’s teammates accept their new roles as easily as they did in a primetime matchup.
The transition period for Paige’s reinsertion into the lineup, at least for one night, appeared to be negligible.
“I like my team, but I like it a lot better when No. 5 is out there," Williams said.