Williams endorses 'Second-Half Marcus'

Admit it: You want North Carolina guard Marcus Paige to shoot more in the first halves of games. He has earned the nickname “Second-Half Marcus” for his penchant to take over after halftime. In two games against Duke, he scored a combined 31 points in the second half, including 18 in the season-finale loss.

Paige leads the Tar Heels in scoring with 17.1 points per game. He has scored in double figures in the second half alone on 18 occasions, compared to only six times it has happened in the first half.

“It’s not easy to explain, but it is easy for me to understand,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “Point guards, they start the game trying to run the game plan, trying to get everybody involved -- well, point guards and intelligent players.”

With Paige averaging 10.5 points in the second half in ACC play, it would seem he could have a bigger impact if he just shot more it the first half, right? Williams said it’s not that simple. Even during the nine games in which Paige started at shooting guard while the statuses of Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston were in limbo, he was more of a second-half scorer.

In six of those nine games, Paige scored in double figures in the second half, including scoring 21 of his 23 points against Kentucky after halftime. Williams likened Paige to former UNC forward Sean May, who gained a good feel for how defenses were going to play him before deciding how to attack.

“Marcus, by nature, is not very selfish,” Williams said. “By nature, he is trying to run the team more. By nature, it’s, 'Do my part to help the team.' And then all of a sudden he realizes, 'Hey, my part to help this team today just might be scoring again,' and tries to go through it.”

Williams sees no reason to tinker with the formula that has clearly worked for Paige.

“Would everybody agree he’s had a pretty doggone good year?” Williams asked. “Why the hell would I try to screw it up?”

The sophomore guard was named first-team All-ACC, was voted the league’s Most Improved Player and received a couple of votes for Player of the Year. He also was named second-team All-America by the Sporting News.

That honor will get Paige immortalized in the Dean E. Smith Center rafters among the program’s honored jerseys. (Paige wrote about it on the school’s website here.)

And if he’s good enough to make the rafters, Williams doesn’t see why anyone would want to change the way he’s played.

“I don’t understand this; has he played pretty well?” Williams asked. “I want him to keep playing well.”