CHAPEL HILL– What a Sunday surprise for Tar Heel nation. Carolina basketball snapped the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals’ 21-game winning streak with a 93-84 win to claim the Hall of Fame Tipoff Championship.
Kennedy Meeks was a force inside and Brice Johnson provided some electric moments, but it was Marcus Paige’s 32 points that led the way for the Tar Heels with confident shots.
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Paige says he understood his role as the leader of the team at the start of the season, but now he says he’s growing more and more comfortable in the role.
“I think from the start I felt that was my role and that’s my job. As we play more games, it just becomes more natural for me. I can be more of an ‘out there’ leader. I can yell at guys and get on guys. They really look to me. That’s something I appreciate I guess,” Paige says.
Paige says no one was giving the Tar Heels much of a chance in their matchup with Louisville. But he says his teammates always knew they could get the win if they took their energy and intensity up to another level. And as the game progressed, that belief only grew.
“Not very many people outside of this locker room expected us to win. A lot of people didn’t even expect us to have a chance to win. We knew if we played together and played hard and gave more effort than we have all year, that we would have a chance. When we came in at the first half, we were real confident because we didn’t play great, and we were still tied,” Paige says.
Head Coach Roy Williams says the feeling in the locker room was a whole lot better than the atmosphere a week ago after the Belmont debacle.
“I just feel very, very good about our team – 180 degrees away from everybody in that locker room from what they felt like last week. We knew we had to play our best. We couldn’t play anything less than the best in order to win this game. We didn’t talk too much about winning. We talked about playing a heck of a lot better. I think we did play a heck of a lot better,” Coach Williams says.
Coach Williams says his team had to play extremely well in all facets of the game to beat a Rick Pitino-coached Louisville team, and they managed to do it.
“You got to play the total game when you play them. You got to guard people. You gut to handle the press. You got to score in the half court. You got to do everything,” Coach Williams says.
After a little Thanksgiving break, the Tar Heels will hope to continue the momentum as they hit the road to face UAB at 6 p.m. Sunday.