Just a week ago, an unranked North Carolina welcomed the #5 Duke Blue Devils to town and were able to beat them with a 74-66 win. Over the following days, much of the news in the sports world was how the Tar Heels were the first team in history to beat teams that were ranked one through four in the preseason polls; those being Kentucky, Michigan State, Louisville and Duke. Well to add to it all, after their 85-84 win over rival North Carolina State on Wednesday, the Tar Heels are in the midst of a 10 game winning streak and starting to prove that they could be one of the most dangerous teams heading into the ACC and National Tournaments.
In between the game against Duke and North Carolina State, the Tar Heels beat Wake Forest by 33 points. Sure, in college basketball it isn’t atypical to see a team win by a large margin. But to win by more than 30 isn’t something you see every day. Especially not in the ACC. And while it took a bit more time in the way of an overtime period, and the margin was much closer, the Tar Heels looked just as impressive with their win over State on Wednesday night.
In the win, and throughout the entire winning streak, Marcus Page was a complete beast. On Wednesday night he had 35 points, including the game winning drive and shot that he nailed with just a second left on the clock. This is a prime time performance from a sophomore who averages 17.5 points per game. However, Paige is no stranger to showing up big when his team needs him. In the win against Louisville he put in 32 points and shot 11-11 from the free throw line.
On the other side of the ball, TJ Warren went shot-for-shot with Paige. Warren, also a sophomore, put up 36 on Wednesday, though he missed a free-throw in the final minute that led to the game winning drive from Paige. The 36 points for Warren was the most a player has put up for North Carolina State since Tom Gugliotta did it, also against the Tar Heels, in 1992. Both Warren and Paige are two sensational sophomores put on a show on Wednesday, and the rest of the ACC should’ve certainly took note.
In four games during North Carolina’s current streak, the Tar Heels have edged out victories by less than 10 points. In all four of those games, Paige has turned up big and had huge second halves to lead his team to victory. When PJ Hairston was kicked off the Tar Heels before the season started, many wondered where leadership, along with points, would come from. However, Paige has stepped up as a sophomore and been more than adequate in leading the Tar Heels.
North Carolina will play Virginia Tech and Notre Dame this upcoming week. While neither team should be too much of a problem for the team that found itself ranked #19 as of this week, they certainly won’t want to overlook either of them. However, on March 8th, the entire basketball world will be watching when the Tar Heels head to Durham to face the Duke Blue Devils. The Blue Devils will be looking to avenge the loss that they had on the road, while the Tar Heels will be looking to prove that they aren’t just on a hot streak, but instead that they are a legit contender to win the NCAA Championship this year. They currently sit at 35/1 odds, but those could easily improve if they keep rolling like they have been lately.