The No. 19 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 21-7 on the season and 11-4 in the ACC, will be looking for win number eleven in a row Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg when it meets Virginia Tech, 9-18 overall and 2-13 in conference play.
Coach Williams reflects on the classic encounter between his team and N.C.State over in Raleigh Wednesday night.
“Marcus was just unbelievable in the second half. I told our guys I didn’t know what to say. Heck of a basketball game if you’re are just a fan. The problem is we’re not just fans; we care about how our team does. We thought we’d just given one away, then all of a sudden at the end, feel like we’ve stolen one,” Coach Williams says.
The Tar Heels will have to be road warriors again this weekend. The 2:30 p.m. tip in Cassell Arena will pit one of the hottest teams in the nation against one of its most struggling squads.
The Hokies have lost 13 of their last 14 games, but the streaking Tar Heels would do well not to overlook them.
Last season, Virginia Tech gave Carolina a scare, pushing the Tar Heels to overtime in Chapel Hill before UNC was able to finally pull away, snagging the 72-60 victory.
Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige says it’s important for him to be aggressive and take the ball to the basket in the waning minutes of games.
“Once it comes crunch-time, when you’re in the bonus you have to attack. You can’t afford to shoot contested jump shots. You have to put pressure on the refs and put pressure on the defense to try to make something happen,” Paige says.
Coach Williams says Paige is a gamer, saving his best for the big-time moments when everything is on the line.
“He’s a confident youngster. He’s a tough youngster. He’s competitive. He’s willing to try to make plays. One night in high school he scored like 18 points in less than three minutes. It may have been less than one minute. I don’t know. It was just weird. He’s a competitive rascal. He doesn’t mind taking shots when they really mean something,” Coach Williams says.
With just two more games remaining on the regular season schedule following the Virginia Tech contest, the banged up Tar Heel players can now see the finish line.
Paige says the season is definitely wearying, but that he’s been taking extra precautions to limit his fatigue as much as possible. However, Paige says Coach Williams has little mercy for his players when it comes to the long season.
“I do stuff every day with our strength coach and our trainer – stretching every day. It’s a long season, especially with the extra practices we had at the beginning of the year. Coach Williams will always say we’re 18, 19, and 20 years old. We can do this. This is what we do,” Paige says.
Carolina finished 8-0 in the month of February, making it the fifth time in the last 50 years the Tar Heels have gone undefeated in February. But the calendar has flipped to March. UNC will be hoping to start off this new month 1-0 on Saturday.