Tudor: Heels ready for NCAAs after strong tournament - WNCN: News, Weather

Tudor: Heels ready for NCAAs after strong tournament

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North Carolina's basketball team didn't win the ACC championship in Greensboro on Sunday, but the Tar Heels left town in much better shape to flourish in the NCAA Tournament than was the case Thursday.

Thanks to three straight impressive performances by freshman point guard Marcus Paige, the Heels (24-10) were in position late to beat top-seeded Miami (27-6). The Hurricanes have more size, talent and experience than UNC is likely to face during its first NCAA weekend and possibly second weekend if it comes to that.

The Hurricanes pulled away during the final minutes for an 87-77 win behind remarkable playmaker Shane Larkin and a stable of perimeter marksmen.

But Paige, only 6-foot and barely 155 pounds, had 17 points against Miami and 34 points, plus 22 assists, over the three tournament games.

"Marcus is better now than he was December," said UNC coach Roy Williams, who was denied his 700th career win. "I'm proud of how our kids got better."

After being held to four points while committing six turnovers in a 69-53 loss to Duke in Chapel Hill on March 9, Paige had the look of a lingering question mark at the end of regular season.

But if Paige (second team all-tournament) advanced, so did sophomore forward P.J. Hairston, whose tournament performance was downright remarkable.

The Heels will enter NCAA play with one of the smallest starting fives in the entire field, but Williams and his players have reached a point where they are comfortable with what they are.

That's important.

"We made a couple of mistakes, but we were tough, we were ready," Williams said.

Only a few weeks ago, UNC exited a few opposing buildings to "NIT! NIT!" chants.

Not only are the Heels going back to the NCAA Tournament, they're going to be a tough out.

Very tough.

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