The Tar Heels' short stay in the ACC tournament had a funny way of getting their attention. The loss to Pittsburgh gave Carolina some unwanted free time over the weekend. It hit sophomore guard Marcus Paige when he went to the mall and happened to walk past television sets showing Duke still playing in the tournament.
“I was like, ‘Geez, why am I at the mall right now? I need to be in Greensboro,’” Paige recalled.
Paige said the time for dwelling on losses, or wins for that matter, is gone. The players appear to have responded. UNC coach Roy Williams called Monday’s practice one of the best of the season.
“We learned from it, but now we have to move past it. The only thing on our mind right now is Providence,” Paige said. “Not what we’ve done in the past, not the 12-game win streak, not the bad home losses or the great road wins that we’ve had. It’s all on Providence and what we can do to be prepared for them.”
Postseason lessons are generally the toughest to understand because the do-over doesn’t come until the next year. Paige admitted that last season he was a little too happy about beating Villanova in the round of 64 -- “I was a freshman; I didn’t know any better,” he said -- and wasn’t focused enough on preparing for Kansas.
“You have to realize that each moment matters. You play two quick games and your season can be over,” Paige said. “... The mental part of the game right now is a big part of it. Obviously everyone is tired and dinged up. How well you can prepare and how well you execute your mental game plan is what really separates teams at this point.”
Paige said he should be at full strength by the time the Heels play Providence on Friday. He banged knees in the Pitt game and said he couldn’t change directions without pain for the rest of that game. He also wore a pad and tape around his left thumb and said he still has some soreness, but that he would be fine.
"Second-Half Marcus" nearly helped the Heels complete a rally against the Panthers, and he took a personal lesson from the game that he’ll apply to the NCAA tournament.
“I might try to attack the basket more in the first half,” Paige said. “In the Pitt game, I got two wide-open shots and they didn’t fall and I kept shooting jump shots instead of trying to get to the basket. I want to just be a little more aggressive to start the game, but I’m not going to change what I do.”