If any big name program needed a big time win to erase the taste of an embarrassing early-season loss, it was the University of North Carolina. The L being referred to here is last week’s three-point home shocker to Belmont, while the much needed win came in a 93-84 dub over the No. 3 team in the country – and defending national champions – Louisville in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament.
Leading the charge for Carolina was sophomore Marcus Paige who poured in a career-high 32 points, going bucket-for-bucket with L’ville’s Russ Smith’s 36.
“We just wanted to come here and give better effort. We had a bad taste in our mouth, cause we had to watch the whole film of the Belmont game,” Paige said. “We wanted to come here with the mindset that we can change our season and get back in the right mind frame that we’re one of the best teams in the country if we play together and hard.”
In one of those weird stats sports always tends to dig up, a Rick Pitino-coached team has never beaten UNC. He’s 0-5 in his career, spanning both at Louisville and Kentucky. In more pressing matters for UNC – who should see a significant jump in the standings – the looming questions about the availability for guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald continue to hover over the program like a black cloud.
Hairston’s legal issues are still on the table following an offseason that saw him cited twice driving rental cars tied to a felon. McDonald’s appears to be more in the “college kid used in marketing schemes” variety as Carolina sent a letter to a company demanding he be taken down off their website to promote designer mouth guards over the summer.
While it would be ideal to have both veterans back much sooner than later, Paige appears ready to carry the load offensively for Carolina in the meantime (because I’m still not sold on James Michael Mcadoo). And he’s going to need every single bit of his scoring prowess, too. Why so serious, you ask?
Because No. 1 Michigan State and No. 4 Kentucky both sit on the horizon for UNC next month.