RALEIGH – Mark Gottfried won’t try to convince the PNC Arena staff to alter the layout to confuse North Carolina senior guard Marcus Paige when he enters the building.
Maybe he should.
The last two trips he’s taken to Raleigh, the “P” in PNC has stood for Paige. After defeating North Carolina State 81-79 in PNC last year, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams joked how Paige probably wished they could play every game in the arena.
Other than saying he liked the basketballs they used there, Paige could not really pinpoint a reason while he seems to light it up at PNC – sticking a dagger in the hearts of Wolfpack fans. A year ago he went for 23 points. As a sophomore, in a classic duel with future ACC Player of The Year T.J.Warren, Paige scored 35, including the game-winning basket.
In three career games at PNC, Paige is averaging 21 points. That’s 10 points more than his average at Duke, the Heels other Tobacco Road nemesis.
“Well we’ve got to do a great job with him,” NCSU coach Mark Gottfried said when asked about Paige’s history in the building. “He’s played like he’s Stephen Curry against us. The guy has been amazing. We understand it, we know it, we’ve talked about. We just have to do a good job on him. We did a pretty good job the first time. I don’t know if that was all of our defense, maybe he just had a bad night. He has to be a focal point for us.”
In Chapel Hill last month, Paige scored three points, going 1-9 from the field, including 0-6 from three-point range. He was guarded mostly by Wolfpack sophomore Cody Martin. The 6-7 forward has the length to cause problems for Paige, but also the athleticism to keep up with chasing him around.
Martin’s twin brother, Caleb, will also get his turn on Paige, as well as point-guard Cat Barber. But most of the duties will fall back to Cody, who scored 10 points back on Jan. 16 in Chapel Hill.
Like the rest of the conference, Cody Martin realizes Paige has been in a slump. He also is well aware that can change when he walks into PNC.
“We still have to defend,” Martin said. “We still have to play him like he’s hot every game.”
Martin described drawing the assignment of Paige as “fun.” Anyone who likes to defend, according to Martin, is always up for the challenge of guarding the best player on the other team. Having done a solid job last time, Martin is getting a pretty good understanding of some of Paige’s tendencies. That and additional film study.
He notices Paige is using his pump fake more, since his shot isn’t falling, trying to get to the basket.
“He’s still a good shooter so I’m never going to dare him to shoot,” Martin said. “All it takes is one shot for somebody to get going. He likes to jab step, pump fake, things like that. It’s just stuff you have to look forward to. He’s smooth and really good at it.”
Paige is coming off a seven-point game against Miami on Saturday. Some would say he is still in his slump. True NCSU fans know that could be smoking mirrors. Last year Paige entered PNC fresh off a modest 10-point performance the previous game. Two years ago, he came in off a 13-point game before exploding for his season high of 35.
State has to make sure Paige doesn’t feel at home at PNC … again.
“I feel like Cody has to do the same thing (as last game) – get up under him, make him take tough shots,” Barber said. “Not let him get open looks. Cody did a great job on him at Carolina, I feel like he’s going to do it again. We have to contain Marcus and make sure he doesn’t get any open looks.”