CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The past two seasons, if North Carolina guard Marcus Paige endured a shooting slump like the one he’s currently mired in, the team likely would have been struggling too.
Instead, the Tar Heels won their 10th straight game Wednesday, beating Wake Forest 83-68.
Needless to say, for the Heels to be a Final Four contender, Paige will have to find his stroke again. Since scoring a season-high 30 points at Florida State on Jan. 4, the senior has gone 1-for-8 against Syracuse, 1-for-9 against NC State and missed his first seven attempts Wednesday before finishing 1-for-8 against the Deacons.
“I’ll be ready when I’m needed to make shots,” Paige said. “Tonight they didn’t need me to make very many.”
He has dealt with this before. Paige recalled his sophomore season, when he started off a combined 5-for-27 against Wake Forest and Miami in ACC play. He shot his way out of that, which is why North Carolina coach Roy Williams wasn’t overly concerned with his shooting.
“I’ve never had a player that I’ve had more confidence in in my entire life than Marcus Paige,” Williams said. “But the ball’s not going in the basket right now.”
It is for a lot of the roster, which speaks to the Heels’ depth offensively, where they’re ranked No. 2 in offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy.
The emergence of Brice Johnson, who scored a game-high 27 and added 11 rebounds, as a reliable post presence has helped. It also speaks to improvements guards Joel Berry and Nate Britt have made from the perimeter. The duo combined to make three of six 3-pointers against Wake. (The rest of the team combined to shoot 0-for-12.)
“A lot of guys have more confidence this year,” Berry said. “Even if Marcus isn’t having a good game he still helps us out because he’s a big key to our team.”
Paige said he wasn’t mad that he’s missing shots because he’s contributing in other ways. What gets him riled up is failing to box out or getting beaten defensively. As a career 38 percent shooter from 3-point range, he’s confident the baskets will start coming again.
“I’ve been shooting the ball phenomenally well in my daily routine -- that’s not what it is,” Paige said. “I stick to the script when I’m shooting well. I still do the same routine when I’m shooting poorly. I still stick to that and I’m confident. I trust the work I’ve put in my entire life. It’s just an ebb and flow.”