CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – With 5:25 to play, Marcus Paige lofted a shot up in the lane with his off hand and watched as the ball bounced on the rim before dropping to give UNC a 73-53 lead. It was a welcome sight, seeing as how it represented the senior guard’s first points of the night and only his third field goal in three games.
Paige, the Preseason ACC Co-Player of the Year, finished with two points on 1-of-8 shooting (0-fo-5 from 3). Those points are his fewest since scoring two points at Miami in his freshman year on Feb. 9, 2013.
Off nights happen. The concern for Paige is that his current string of off nights dates back three games. Since scoring 30 points on 10-of-21 shooting (5-of-9 from 3) at Florida State 16 days ago, the Marion, Iowa native has scored eight points on 3-of-25 shooting (1-of-17 from 3), which represents the worst shooting stretch of his career.
His previous low mark was a 4-of-24 effort over a trio of games against Maryland, Georgia Tech and N.C. State in January 2013.
Roy Williams claimed in his postgame press conference to have never had a player of Paige’s caliber endure such a futile shooting streak, although his trust remains unwavering.
“[He] didn't play very well, but I'm telling you the truth: I've never had a player in 28 years as a head coach that I've got more confidence in than I do in Marcus,” Williams said. “So I'm going to get get a crystal ball, put a wig on, get some incense, and see if I can go chant something to figure it out.”
While Paige joked with reporters after the game that he was surprised his right-handed layup dropped, he also stressed that most of his attempts felt good with the exception of his last 3-pointer which was a little off to the left. There seemed to be a touch of frustration with the questions surrounding his shooting slump, but not the slump itself.
“As long as we win, I’m fine,” Paige said. “I’ll be ready when I’m needed to make shots.”
He dismissed the notion that this was a new experience for him, referencing his start to the 2013-14 ACC season in which he scored a combined 16 points on 5-of-27 shooting (3-of-19 from 3) against Wake Forest and Miami.
“It’s happened before, and I think I did okay at the end of that season,” Paige said. “That’s just the way it goes.”
Paige said he’s not mad that he’s missing shots because he knows that his touch will return. What bothers him are the other miscues, ranging from turnovers to silly fouls to defensive breakdowns, such as getting beat backdoor against N.C. State on Saturday.
There’s been no attempt over the past two weeks to alter his daily routine, a period during which he’s shooting the ball “phenomenally well.” He’s sticking to the script, and has no intentions of changing the order regardless of how well – or poor – he may be shooting the ball.
“I’m confident,” Paige said. “I trust the work that I’ve put in my entire life. It’s just an ebb and flow.”
That confidence in his ability is shared by both his coaches and his teammates.
“The dude is one of the best players in the country,” sophomore wing Theo Pinson said. “You don’t have to tell him nothing. He’s going to make his shot. He puts in the work. We want him to shoot the ball… It looks good every time it comes off his hands. It looked really good today; it just didn’t fall.”