Maybe the best game of the season in the ACC so far ended with North Carolina winning on the road against North Carolina State 81-79 with finally a big and efficient shooting night for Marcus Paige, while managing to overcome a huge mistake by whoever runs the clock in the arena, giving the Wolfpack 15 extra seconds to try and complete their comeback.
With the clock showing 1:20, a North Carolina possession was being played without the time moving on either the ESPN clock or the one inside the arena. It didn’t make any difference in the end, as North Carolina State failed in their attempts to tie the game in the final two minutes, but it would have been a major controversy had the game clock issue actually affected and changed the outcome of the game.
As for the winners, North Carolina have now won two in a row since losing a close one against Notre Dame. Both of their wins have been narrow, but their opponents have been impressive, including a top 5 Louisville and now their second biggest rivals on the road, a team that has just beaten Duke by 12 points.
Marcus Paige scored 23 points while shooting 6-of-9 from the field, hitting all five 3-point attempts and six more from the line, adding 9 assists in his best game this season. Paige has now shot 50% or better from the field in only three games this season, but it’s the second time in four games this has happened. As it usually with goes for the Tar Heels during the Roy Williams era, they go where their points guards take them. This kind of basketball from Paige is very good news.
It wasn’t just Paige having a great game. Kennedy Meeks scored 15 points to go with 10 rebounds in just 28 minutes, Brice Johnson finished with 10 and 7 in 18 minutes and Isaiah Hicks scored 12 points off the bench. Once again, regardless of the less than impressive scoring numbers, the work of J.P. Tokoto on both ends of the floor was crucial to the victory, finishing with four rebounds, five assists and 7 points while adding a huge steal to help keep his team in the lead late in the game.
Tokoto’s biggest contribution came through his defense on Trevor Lacey, who did score 19 points, but had to go to the line to get 10 of them. He scored his first points only 15 minutes into the game and hit just 4-of-13 from the field as the Wolfpack struggled early on with North Carolina’s defense, which along with the efficiency and accuracy of Paige from the floor, will determine if this season will be a special one or another one of falling short of expectations.