No. 1 Tar Heels tweaking backcourt lineup for Temple opener
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Everything was set up perfectly for No. 1 North Carolina to start with a flurry – until senior Marcus Paige suffered a freak injury when his right hand got tangled in a teammate's jersey during practice.
Now the Tar Heels are juggling their backcourt rotation entering Friday's opener against Temple, aiming to make up for the multi-week loss of the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason co-player of the year.
''It's kind of an adjustment for us,'' senior forward Brice Johnson said Wednesday. ''But we're starting to work through it and get better with it. Coach is playing with the lineups a little bit, trying to figure out which guys work together better.''
The school said last week that the senior guard had broken a bone in his non-shooting hand and would miss three to four weeks. His absence will be a rarity for the Tar Heels considering he had missed one game in his career and averaged more than 34 minutes over the past two season as both floor leader and big-shot maker.
Paige isn't wearing a cast, though his hand is bandaged with a splint. He is also coming off a season when he played through nagging foot problems most of the year.
''I think that's given me the idea that I don't want to deal with that this year,'' Paige said. ''Hopefully I won't have to when I come back. I should be good to go. They're hopeful that the timeline they've talked about . is for me to be 100 percent.''
The Tar Heels at least have some depth to deal with Paige's injury, though it was hard to take a lot away from UNC's exhibition win against Guilford because sophomore wing Justin Jackson was out due to illness.
The Tar Heels started junior Nate Britt and sophomore Joel Berry II in the backcourt, while Theo Pinson started as small forward and freshman Kenny Williams III was mixed into the rotation. Coach Roy Williams said he hasn't settled on a starting lineup to play the Owls in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, Maryland.
''I have confidence in the role they played last year, and now we're going to ask them to play a different role,'' Williams said. ''And we haven't seen that yet.''
As for Paige, the Marion, Iowa, doesn't want to rule himself out of his homecoming game at Northern Iowa on Nov. 21 just yet. And a roughly four-week recovery would have him close to returning for the Dec. 1 matchup with No. 3 Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Paige said he's getting daily questions on campus about his hand and whether he'll be back for that game, even from a guy who stopped driving a food truck long enough to shout at Paige from an open window.
''I know I can't play but I'm excited to see how our guys are and I can't wait to get back out there,'' Paige said. ''But man, I'm happy with how our team looks and I hope we come out and play well.''
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