Tuesday night’s game against Wake Forest concludes what was supposed to be one of the “easier” week-long stretches, schedule-wise, for North Carolina, considering its matchups with three squads hovering near the bottom of the ACC standings. But so far, it hasn’t been all that easy.
Last Tuesday, the Tar Heels won at Boston College -- despite losing key reserve P.J. Hairston in the first half to a concussion.
Playing without Hairston on Saturday, it took overtime to beat Erick Green and Virginia Tech at home.
And against the Deacons, they’ll likely be playing without Hairston again; not because of the concussion, but because of a flu bug that has also affected at least a couple others on the team.
Finishing this stretch strong is key for UNC (15-6, 5-3 ACC), considering what’s next: a trip to eighth-ranked Miami on Saturday, followed by a trip to No. 4 Duke, followed by a home game against Virginia (which has already beaten the Tar Heels once this season).
A few things to watch during Tuesday night’s 7 p.m. ET tipoff at the Smith Center:
All season long, the Tar Heels have been waiting for freshman point guard Marcus Paige’s shot to fall, and in a tight game against the Hokies on Saturday, it finally did -- and at just the right time.
With Hairston sidelined, and Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald combining to shoot 1-for-13 from the 3-point line, Paige scored eight of his career-high 19 points in overtime to help secure the victory.
He finished 6-for-14, with five assists and five rebounds.
“It was a good experience for Marcus to step up,’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said.
And something, perhaps, the young ballhandler can build upon.
Led by junior Travis McKie (15.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and senior C.J. Harris (14.5 ppg), the Demon Deacons (10-11, 3-6) have shown they have the ability to pull an upset; they beat then-No. 18 N.C. State 86-84 at home Jan. 22 in their biggest win since Jeff Bzdelik became head coach. But since then, they lost by 20 points at Georgia Tech, pushed then-fifth-ranked Duke before losing at home by five, and got blown out by 26 at Maryland.
Emotional consistency has been an issue since the beginning of the season, Bzdelik acknowledged.
“It’s been an emotional roller-coaster, and so that’s something obviously we’ve addressed,’’ he said. “As the leader, I acknowledge I have yet to find a key to their emotions to have them be right for our next opponent. That is something that is a work in progress, I can tell you that.’’
After averaging only 9 offensive rebounds in non-league play, the Demon Deacons have hit the glass harder during ACC games, and are averaging 12.2 offensive rebounds against league foes – second only to UNC. Look for some big box-outs.