CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Roy Williams again dismissed the growing controversy amidst the fan base regarding Marcus Paige’s minutes at point guard on Friday.
“It’s getting so much attention, and it’s not valid,” the 13th-year UNC head coach told reporters during his weekly press conference.
Paige’s logging the majority of his playing time at the off-guard spot alongside of Joel Berry at the point this season, a move which some observers have cited in an attempt to explain the senior guard’s decreased scoring production. Paige is averaging 11.1 points on 36 percent shooting (29.1 percent from 3) in 17 ACC games.
“I love the ball in Marcus’s hands,” Williams said. “I don’t care if he’s the starting center, the starting point guard or what, I love the ball in his hands. And we get him the ball in his hands a lot.”
Williams alluded to Paige’s early season success – the Marion, Iowa native averaged 16.3 points on 49.5 percent shooting (44.4 percent from 3) through his first 10 games at the two-guard – as evidence for the misplaced attribution. He also highlighted Paige’s involvement in late-game situations from the off-guard spot, including several key plays in Monday’s win over Syracuse and the first meeting with No. 17 Duke.
“The last three plays in the Duke game that we lost here, he had the ball in his hands two of the three and was supposed to get it the third time,” Williams said.
Williams noted that Paige has been playing point guard when Nate Britt enters the game for Berry.
The discussion may be less about Paige’s ability to play off the ball and more about Berry’s relative effectiveness in facilitating the offense from the point guard spot. Berry is on pace to average the fewest assists per game (3.8) by a UNC point guard since Adam Boone (3.2) in 2001-02.
What have the last few days been like for your team emotionally following senior night?
“The emotion that comes to me was relief. It was, I had put so much into it mentally I guess, that it probably meant more to me than it did anybody else in a civilized or uncivilized world, either one. I think it was relief and the satisfaction of having those guys go out with a win. Our record, I did go back and look, it’s been pretty doggone good on senior night for 38 years, counting the 10 years as an assistant, but still, it was stressful for me. I was happy the guys did win their last game played in the Smith Center, and after that I sort of let it go and tried to start thinking about this other thing that’s coming up tomorrow.”
With the way things went last time Duke played UNC, does it add an extra element this Saturday?
“I don’t know. You always get ticked off when you felt like you let one slip by, but you also should congratulate the other team, because they took it. I understand that. I’m one of these guys that always feels like the other team has part of it, it’s not always North Carolina’s responsibility, and it’s always up to them, but it does tick you off a little bit more when you feel like you allowed one that you had in pretty good shape at several times in the second half to slip by. It’s annoying, you get ticked off, a lot of other ways I could describe it as well, and we, same way. Austin Rivers, when he made that shot, I was so mad at that time, because they were like five plays in a row or five calls in a row, and every one of them, we didn’t make, and he made the jumpshot. But you’ve still got to live, and that was four or five years ago, and I’m still coaching. I’m still moving around, not quite as high vertical jump as I had back then, but I’m still moving around.”
Did that game teach you any long-lasting lessons?
“I don’t think so. I think you just get ticked off. You’re mad at yourself, mad at everything, but, like I say, back in 2012, nothing’s bothered me like that one did, because, again, five plays or calls or whichever combination you want, and we were 0-5. And then the shot goes in. 1975, a damn guy from Mt. Heritage made a shot from 40 feet, I’m still pissed off about that. What happened two weeks ago, you’re darn right I still feel the same way.”
Does getting this senior class a win at Duke mean as much as winning an ACC Championship?
“No. Winning the conference championship is more important. The fact that we have it at Duke, if we were to win it there, I swear, if we happen to win, I’m not gonna go around the locker room screaming and chanting ‘We beat Duke,’ they’re a great program, great team, and we have battles every year with them, but the chance to win a conference championship? There’s 15 teams in this league. It’s a pretty doggone good league. It’s hard to do it. Tony (Bennett and Virginia) won two in a row, we won six of the first nine, that’s hard to do, so that’s much, much bigger than one game.”
Have you talked to Marcus Paige about the opportunity that’s still there for him to finish this senior year well with so many important games left?
“Very little, because he’s been saying that himself. I don’t feel like I’ve had to. He’s been very big on next play. Next play, put that behind you. He has to say that to his teammates in the huddle before I get to them sometimes. And sometimes after I get to them, too. I haven’t had the feeling that I have to do that, because I’ve heard him say that. I told him, before we played Duke last time, I said ‘Guys, I promise you if we win this game, they’re not going to give us the championship. And if we lose this game, they’re not going to give it to them.’ There is a difference tomorrow, if we win it, they are not going to give it to us, I think we earned it, but they realize that this was one senior night and the end of this regular season is extremely important, because I want those guys to be as blessed as they can be. I haven’t had to say much about what’s in front of us, because he’s saying it himself, and they already realize it. I put more emotion into it, there’s no question in my mind, because there was something personal to it with me. But I think I put a heck of a lot more into than I’ve ever had any regular season game.”
How close or far are you guys from reaching your potential?
“It’s there and it’s not there. I learned a lesson. In 2012, I thought we were really good. And Austin Rivers makes that shot here, and it just killed me. They’re still showing it in the highlights on their big board at Duke. Two weeks later, we beat them, still won the conference championship. And dumb ol’ Roy Williams gets on the stupid bus and said to my staff, ‘We play like that, we can play the last Monday night of the season.’ Two games later, John Henson got hurt. Two games after that, Kendall Marshall got hurt. I don’t look at it like that. We’re going to try to be better today than we were yesterday, and it’s boring as hell, and you guys have heard me say it, but that’s exactly the way I look at it, because that taught me a lesson, because I thought we were the freakin’ best in the country. Kentucky had beaten us by one at Kentucky, and I thought we’d be playing the last Monday night, and all of a sudden something that you have no control over controls everything.”
Brett Thompson contributed to this story.