Tudor: Paige comes up huge for UNC - WNCN: News, Weather

Tudor: Paige comes up huge for UNC

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For North Carolina's basketball program, it was a win/win outcome afternoon Saturday in Greensboro Coliseum.

With a 79-76 ACC Tournament semifinal win over seventh-seeded Maryland, the third-seeded Tar Heels got win No. 24 for the season and a shot at top-seeded Miami in Sunday's  title game, the glorious league's 60th overall.

That part of it was a win for the moment.

Part II was a win for the future -- the upshot of freshman playmaker Marcus Paige's late-game performance under immense pressure while saddled with four fouls, two of which were laughable calls by a zany crew. But "that's racin'" as someone in NASCAR donning No. 43 once said.

Going into the tournament, Paige clearly was the most important player for the Tar Heels. During regular season, he'd been good at times, average at times and a liability a couple of times.

Postseason basketball is all about several things, but nothing more important than offensive leadership. Paige is UNC's only full-time playmaker, even though senior utility guard Dexter Strickland (15 points, four rebounds) was remarkable against the Terps.

But Paige, whose late-game baseline drive was the most important field goal of the game, will have to play 35 quality minutes per game for UNC to upset Miami and then go far in the NCAA.

Before the ACC games in Greensboro began, UNC coach Roy Williams referred to Paige as a "tough little nut."

Paige (6 feet tall and 155 or so pounds) is definitely little and likely will be until long after his playing career ends.

"Tough" he has been through two games in Greensboro. "Tough enough" as Ol' Roy might say.

"Nut" -- as in Carolina fans are one more win away from going nuts again in Greensboro -- is right there for the taking if Paige can outplay the Hurricanes' 5-11 Shane Larkin on Sunday.

And with a win, that "tough little nut" from Asheville in charge of the coaching will have career win No. 700.

Think about it:

•Greensboro.

•ACC championship game.

•Selection Sunday.

•700 wins.

•Dean Smith probably -- hopefully -- watching on television.

•Strange, young personnel mix all season.

•Freshman point/pint guard from Iowa.

•Roy might freakin' cry right out loud.

•With justification.

•With lots of company (maybe even a few in red and dark blue).

 Don't give me that look, State and Duke peeps. Paige and the Heels saved the weekend.

It could have been:

•Maryland vs. Miami.

•In Greensboro.

•On Sunday.

•With 15,000 empty seats.

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