There are college basketball games, and then there are rivalry, intense, action packed college basketball games that fans remember forever. Tonight was one of those games that they will be talking about for a long time on Franklin Street.
It boiled down to a battle between TJ Warren and Marcus Paige, with Beejay Anya and JP Tokoto starring as supporting actors. The setting was a packed PNC Arena and the stakes could not have been higher. Bragging rights and NCAA tournament positions were on the line, and both teams needed wins in different ways.
NC State jumped on the Tar Heels early after the Heels lumbered through the first half. It was 34-26 at halftime, but it could have been a much larger lead for the Wolfpack. UNC came out in the second half much more focused, and cut State’s lead to one point, 37-36, with 13:18 left in the second half. But the drama was only just getting started.
From this point on, it seemed like Marcus Paige and TJ Warren could score at will whenever they wanted too. Paige was on fire from three, making every shot he took coming curling off screens. Warren was unguardable by any Tar Heel, and Coach Williams had no answer for the talented guard.
Paige hit a three pointer to cut State’s lead to one point with 7:55 left to go in the second half, and the lead seemed to stay there at one point for the rest of the game. The action was back and forth, with Warren and Paige hitting countless clutch shots to tie or put their team in the lead.
As the clock approached all zeros, the Tar Heels seemed to have locked up a victory over their in state rivals. JP Tokoto hit two free throws with 5 seconds left to put the Heels up 2 71-69. But a foul on Leslie McDonald sent TJ Warren to the line for two free throws, which he calmly sank, sending the game into overtime.
In overtime, the Wolfpack again took control. State’s lead was as large as 77-71, but Marcus Paige put his Tar Heels back in the game with two three pointers. After a James Michael McAdoo layup tied the game at 83 all, State elected to hold for the last shot.
TJ Warren, who would finish with 36 points, was sent to the line after a foul by James Michael McAdoo. But Warren’s clutch streak wore off a little bit, as he hit only one of two free throws. The door was still open for the Heels to steal a victory away from the Pack.
Marcus Paige, already with 33 points of his own, drove the ball up the court, attacked the rim, and with the game hanging in the balance, executed NC State with a game winning layup. It was a dramatic finish to an instant classic.
UNC finished 30-66 from the floor, for 45.5% shooting. The Heels were 7-15 from three and 18-31 (!!!) from the free throw line. Only three Tar Heels finished in double figures: Paige with 35, Tokoto with 16, and Brice Johnson off the bench with 10 points.
For the Wolfpack, it was TJ Warren leading the way on 13-25 shooting. Guard Ralston Turner chipped in 16, and forward Beejay Anya also added in 10 points.
UNC plays at Virginia Tech, home against Notre Dame, and at Duke in its final three games of the ACC season.