By Turner Walston, GoHeels.com
When his team needed a basket with 5.3 seconds remaining, sophomore point guard Marcus Paige called his own number. Paige’s floater swished through the net as time expired to cap a furious comeback and end Friday’s Blue-White Game tied at 50 points after 20 minutes of play.
The scrimmage - a more competitive Late Night with Roy finale than in previous years given the team has been practicing for three weeks - gave Carolina fans their first glimpse at the 2013-14 Tar Heels.
Paige’s shot provided a thrill at the buzzer, but his White team teammate Kennedy Meeks stole the show. The freshman big man had 16 points (unofficially) and established himself down low. Meeks, who at 6’9 and 284 pounds gives the Tar Heels a physical presence in the post, was furious on the glass as well.
Roy Williams said Meeks came to Chapel Hill in July at 317 pounds and had already lost more than 30 pounds. “He’s got great hands and touch around that basket, and he keeps getting his hands,” the coach said. “I told Joel (James) to try to boxing him out; that may help us.”
Sophomore forward Joel James matched up with Meeks for much of the evening, and the two are competing for playing time at the ‘5’ position. James said Meeks despite his size is able to find his way through the smallest crack to secure a rebound. “He’s such a big body, and he has a great nose for the ball,” James said. “I feel like he’s going to cause a lot of problems for other players trying to box him out.”
James, who is relatively new to the game (he didn’t play organized basketball until his sophomore year of high school), continues to improve and understand how Williams wants it to be played. “Coach Williams has a saying: ‘perfect practice makes perfect,’ so everything I do on the basketball court, I try to do it [perfectly] and sometimes it’s my downfall, because I tend to think about the wrong things I did too often. I get caught up in mistakes, but I try to be a perfectionist in everything I do and try to carry it over into a game.”
James scored 10 points for the Blue team, who were led by the hot shooting of sophomore P.J. Hairston. Hairston finished the night with 20 points and looked as comfortable as ever beyond the three-point line. J.P. Tokoto had 10 points while freshman Isaiah Hicks added 8 off the bench.
Roy Williams coached from the sideline for part of the scrimmage, then moved to watch from the baseline. This is a practice, after all.
The last sequence will resonate with Tar Heel fans - at least until their team takes the court next Friday for an exhibition matchup with UNC Pembroke. With his team trailing by two late, Paige fouled freshman guard Nate Britt and campaigned for a quickie rule change. Teams had been awarded a point on two-shot fouls with a live ball on the second free throw attempt, but Paige convinced Williams to make it one-and-one. Britt missed the free throw and the White team called timeout. Then the sophomore took command of the huddle.
“I kind of took control of the timeout and drew up a little high ball screen. We call it ‘early,’ when our big guy sets the screen. I was able to get an opening and hit the shot,” Paige said. “It was a fun way for me to get a chance to be a coach and draw something up real quick.” It was fun, and a great finish to a fun night.
The 50-50 tie meant that neither team had to run postgame sprints, something the head coach (jokingly?) lamented. “I was hoping he would miss, so I could run somebody in front of all those people,” Williams said. “I’ve never had that big a crowd to watch my guys run.” Maybe so, but you get the feeling the Hall of Fame coach doesn’t mind his point guard drawing up a play and hitting a game-tying shot, either.
Other Late Night highlights:
•A special message from women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell
•The joy on Ivory Latta’s face upon her introduction in her return to Chapel Hill as an assistant coach.
•Recognitions for the women’s tennis, soccer and lacrosse teams for their national championships in 2012-13
•A special appearance by Sean May introducing a video tribute to Williams
•Senior Thank-You Notes, with Denzel Robinson thanking his father Steve for his receding hairline.