2-guard combo bolsters UNC basketball

1115_basketballpre_wilco

When the lights dimmed in the Smith Center last Friday, the spotlights honed in on the North Carolina men’s basketball team. Into the light walked two players in novel situations.

Freshman Nate Britt was starting in his first game as a Tar Heel. Sophomore Marcus Paige was starting in his first game as a shooting guard.

Both players excelled in UNC’s season-opening win against Oakland, but Paige said he had definitely not expected to be sharing time on the court with Britt as frequently as he did in the game.

“It’s not the first thing I thought of when I looked at our lineup,” Paige said. “I knew we’d play a little bit together, but I didn’t anticipate this at all.”

But Paige said it is definitely a pleasant surprise.

“He’s really easy to share the court with just because of how he plays,” he said. “He’s so unselfish, and he’s such a team-first guy.”

The injection of Britt — a true point guard — into UNC’s lineup has opened Paige up to be the dynamic shooting guard he’s shown flashes of before.

Only four players on the Tar Heels’ roster last season made more than five 3-pointers. One of them — Reggie Bullock — is now suiting up for the Los Angeles Clippers. Two — Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston — are suiting up in jackets and ties on the sideline where they will remain indefinitely.

So, whether he likes it or not, the onus lies with Paige. Of those four last year, Paige was last in percentage (.344) and second to last in 3-pointers made (45). The then-freshman was averaging just more than one shot from beyond the arc per game out of just under four attempts.

Against Oakland, Paige knocked down a game-high four 3-pointers on seven attempts.

“It’s completely night and day,” Paige says of his shooting compared to last season.

Coach Roy Williams said his team’s performance in its sole game of the season so far was also black and white.

“(In the first half) we played better then than we have in any day of practice and the second half we played about as poorly as we have in any day of practice,” Williams said. “Probably somewhere between is the real team.”

But Williams was quick to point out that the game should be taken with a grain of salt. He made a point of acknowledging Oakland’s surprising skill, but in comparison to teams further down on UNC’s schedule, he was blunt.

“They’re not as gifted as some of the teams that we’re going to play,” Williams said. “You have to understand there’s a difference there. If you’re doing that against the San Antonio Spurs, then it’s time to go home and get out the ice cream and feel pretty good.”

In Friday’s game against Holy Cross, Paige and Britt will once again share the spotlight. Due to the situation Williams has grown more than tired of talking about, he says the lineup will continue out of necessity.

But if the duo continues to complement one another as they have so far, perhaps they’ll be bathed in the pregame spotlight together more often.

sports@dailytarheel.com

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