No. 18 UNC rallies to beat No. 5 Louisville on Paige’s late bucket
Marcus Paige ignored the pain in his twice-injured right foot, put his head down and drove toward the rim.
He sent a shot high on the backboard that dropped through the net, giving No. 18 North Carolina a comeback win that might also jolt the preseason all-American out of his slow start to the season.
Paige’s scooping layup with 8.5 seconds left capped UNC’s comeback from 13 down in the final 8 minutes to beat No. 5 Louisville 72-71 on Saturday.
"I said jokingly to my teammates that I was back," Paige said. "I know I haven’t been playing the way I’m capable of playing, you guys know that, it’s pretty well documented at this point. And I need to play better. … But my teammates still have a lot of confidence in me and I still have a lot of confidence in myself."
Paige, also the preseason ACC player of year, missed a tying 3 late in a December home loss to Iowa, then missed two shots in the final 10 seconds of Monday’s 71-70 home loss to No. 13 Notre Dame. His scoring and shooting percentages are down from last season, when he made a habit of turning in big second-half performances.
But he came through for the Tar Heels (12-4, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) despite missing part of the second half when he rolled his right ankle, the same foot in which he’s battling plantar fasciitis that limited him in recent practices.
"There was no way he would sit back and watch and just allow his team to play without him," teammate Nate Britt said. "I knew he was going to tough out whatever pain he was going through."
Louisville (14-2, 2-1) looked headed for a 3-0 start in its new ACC home when it couldn’t miss after halftime and built its big lead. But the Cardinals went cold and committed turnovers that helped UNC re-charge its home crowd and build momentum.
The Cardinals had two shots for the win, a 3-pointer from Wayne Blackshear and an off-balance stickback attempt from Terry Rozier that hit backboard and rim on the wild final-play sequence.
Rozier scored 25 points and Chris Jones added 19 to lead Louisville, but Montrezl Harrell — Paige’s fellow preseason Associated Press all-American — finished with just nine points and five rebounds in 38 minutes.
"We’re playing very good basketball, I’m excited," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "But also we’re hurting very much right now. It stings as much as any game I’ve coached. Our players are very hurt by it. But this is the ACC. There are going to be a lot of games like this."
Louisville: The Cardinals made 13 of 20 shots out of halftime to lead 63-50 on Blackshear’s 3 with 8:43 left, but missed 8 of their final 10. … Louisville has lost its only two games in Chapel Hill, the other in December 1998.
UNC: The Tar Heels improved to 4-2 against ranked opponents. … They took a 40-30 rebounding advantage, including 17-9 on the offensive glass for 17 second-chance points. … UNC shot 52 percent after halftime. … This was the first time UNC has played consecutive one-point games since the 1981 ACC tournament.
JOHNSON STEPS UP
Brice Johnson led the defensive effort on Harrell and finished with a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds). He also scored in the lane with 38.1 seconds left for a 70-69 lead, UNC’s first after halftime.
ROZIER’S BIG DAY
Rozier finished 10 for 21 from the field, including a jumper for a 71-70 lead with 25 seconds left. But after corralling Blackshear’s missed 3, he couldn’t come up with the winner. "I didn’t know how much time was left," Rozier said. "I wish it could have gone in. It was tough seeing it not go through."
The game featured two Naismith Hall of Fame coaches in Pitino and UNC’s Roy Williams with a combined 1,445 wins.
Louisville hosts Virginia Tech on Tuesday.
UNC heads to rival North Carolina State on Wednesday.