by Megan Walsh, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL -- Just before the end of regulation in North Carolina's 72-60 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday, freshman point guard Marcus Paige was sweating it out.
The Marion, Iowa, native was in UNC's huddle anxiously waiting for the plays that followed his turnover with 31 seconds to go in the game and the score knotted at 55. So when the Hokies' Erick Green missed the go-ahead jumper and sent the game into overtime, Paige took it upon himself to lead UNC to a win.
"After that last defensive possession I was praying that he would miss it because that would have been devastating to me," Paige said. "Just to see that ball not go in and know that we had another chance to come out and regroup and try to get the win was big."
Using the turnover as his motivation, Paige made an emphatic statement in overtime for the Tar Heels and scored eight points, including an early three-pointer. He finished the night with a career-high 19 points amidst five rebounds and five assists.
"He made some big shots for us, made the free throws - went 3-for-4 from the free throw line," coach Roy Williams said. "In overtime, he was the most important player on the court for us."
But that doesn't come as a surprise to Williams.
"I like his toughness, his competitiveness," Williams said. "I've said all along that he really is going to be a good player. He showed a little bit more today, but in high school one game he scored 18 in a minute and 18 seconds or something like that. He has some confidence.
"It's just a hard league. Regardless of where your high school is, whether it's in Iowa or New York, the jump from there to the ACC is not an easy jump. It's been a big challenge for everybody."
Paige finished the night with four three-pointers, one of which Williams pointed out that teammate Reggie Bullock could have easily taken himself. Instead, Bullock noticed what the rest of the Tar Heels were seeing and passed the ball to Paige for another easy shot.
"Marcus is just all about confidence," Bullock said. "He's a great player. He came in as a scoring point guard, and we need him to continue to score and make smart decisions at the point guard position. His confidence is going to keep growing and hopefully he can continue to be like that every night for us."
After admitting that he has struggled with his shot all year, Paige too hopes this is the start of a more confident player from here on out. He said that his play against the Hokies can do nothing but help him take more chances on the offensive end moving forward.
"Big-time players always make big-time plays," Paige said. "I knew that if I had an open opportunity I would knock it down. I like to think of myself like that. When you're on the court, your confidence determines a lot of things. If you think you're a big-time player, you're going to try to end up playing like one."