On February 12, 1997 Ed Cota hit a baseline floater with 4.6 seconds left to break the hearts of Wolfpack fans as North Carolina defeated NC State 45-44 in Reynolds Coliseum. Ed Cota who was a freshman at the time helped UNC win its first road game in the ACC on a run that ended with the tar Heels losing in the final four to Arizona. Marcus Paige faces his first challenge in Raleigh and the freshman point guard has shown growth the past two weeks of ACC play.
Marcus Paige For is averaging 1.74 assists for every turnover he has committed and the previous three wins he has improved this to 2-1. Ed Cota who was arguably the best assist man to grace the floors in Chapel Hill had a 1.8 assist to turnover ratio as a freshman. After a slow start in the ACC Cota found his confidence and the rest is history. Can Marcus Paige meet the challenge of facing a fiery Wolfpack crowd Saturday against one of the league’s best in Lorenzo Brown? He must if North Carolina wants to leave PNC Arena leaving State fans as disgusted as they were in 1997.
The point guard by default is a barometer for how a team is going to handle an adverse situation. He has to determine when to slow the pace, when to speed it up and when to take chances to win on the road in the ACC. The point guard does not have to be the best player on the team, but he better be one of the calmest if not the coolest person under pressure. Marcus Paige will face each of these situations Saturday and with a hostile crowd added to the mixture the young point guard cannot get rattled when he makes a mistake. Looking back at the ACC vault and Ed Cota’s baseline shot versus NC State there was no hesitation when he made the decision to drive down the left side and put up what became a patented Ed Cota “Floata” to seal a win. Paige does not have to win the game however his decision making must be sharp as we have seen the past few weeks and he must be aggressive pushing the ball out on the break.
Paige’s teammates Reggie Bullock, PJ Hairston and James Michael McAdoo have all been playing at the elite level Tar Heel fans expected at the beginning of the year. That being said NC State is going to try and limit their touches forcing Paige to make some plays. He cannot be afraid to take the open shot or drive on Lorenzo Brown who has a tendency to commit silly fouls and occasionally is not aggressive defensively. He does not have to match Brown point for point, but he must be a threat to score which will open up a confidant PJ Hairston and Reggie bullock that is officially over his shyness to shoot.
Tar Heels fans have been clamoring over the recent signing of Joel Berry and to next season’s freshman Nate Britt, but Marcus Paige is developing in front of our eyes. Take notice Tar Heel fans or you could miss a freshman moment as we saw in 1997.