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Monday April 12th

Marcus Paige prepared for familiar foe

<p>Marcus Paige will help the Tar Heels take on the Harvard Crimson in Jacksonville, Fla., at 7:20 p.m.</p>
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Marcus Paige will help the Tar Heels take on the Harvard Crimson in Jacksonville, Fla., at 7:20 p.m.

Both hail from the Upper Midwest — Paige from Marion, Iowa, and Chambers from Golden Valley, Minn. So, starting in sixth grade, the two could always count on seeing each other on the AAU circuit.

“We pretty much played each other at least once every summer,” Paige said.

“He’s a great point guard. I’ve been playing against him for a long time,” said Chambers of his counterpart.

After high school, their paths veered in opposite directions: Paige went to North Carolina and Chambers to Harvard.

But on Thursday, Paige and Chambers will meet again, this time on the court at Veterans Memorial Arena for a second-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region. And true to history, they’ll be marked by difference, representing two contrasting teams: No. 4 seed UNC and 13th-seeded Harvard.

“Good news that we’re actually in and here’s our moment,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. “The bad news is, boy, this is who we have to play.”

UNC has 110 all-time victories in the NCAA Tournament. Harvard has just two — one in 2013 and one in 2014.

This season, four UNC players average double figures, led by Paige with 13.9 points a game. Only one Crimson player averages in double digits, senior swingman Wesley Saunders with 16.3 points a game.

But one of the most apparent differences between the two squads is the polarity in their styles of play. Harvard plays slow and deliberate basketball. UNC kicks it up a notch, always looking to run and gun.

“That’s just the way we’re supposed to be playing,” said junior forward Brice Johnson. “That’s the way coach has been emphasizing the way we need to play the entire year.”

According to data compiled by college basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy, UNC’s average offensive possession length is 16 seconds. Harvard’s is 20.5.

“Harvard will run, but they run when they have the opportunity,” Paige said. “We want to run every time even if we don’t get a quick shot, just to run and get pressure and get the tempo to our liking.”

But among the differences is one similarity: In three years of college basketball, Paige and Chambers have the same amount of NCAA Tournament wins. Since 2013, UNC and Harvard have each won just twice. Neither team has advanced to the third round.

“I do think there’s value in being here,” Coach Roy Williams said. “Harvard’s won the last two years.”

So as different as UNC and Harvard might be, don’t expect the Tar Heels to take the Crimson too lightly come 7:20 p.m. Thursday night.

“There’s no cupcakes in the tournament,” said junior swingman J.P. Tokoto on Tuesday. “We’re not looking past them at all.”


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