Philadelphia — Marcus Paige recalled Michael Jordan, another Tar Heel, on that night in 1992 when he hit six 3-pointers in the first half of Game 2 of the NBA finals. When No. 6 sailed true, the great man turned to the TV announcers and shrugged. (Guessing you’ve seen that one.)
For the record, Marcus Paige hit only four treys in the first half here against Indiana, and these were fairly breathtaking themselves. Paige has had a difficult season shooting. (He had a bit of an excuse; he broke a metacarpal in his right hand in November.) Before Friday night, he’d made only 33 percent of his treys, the worst percentage in his four North Carolina seasons. Here in the Elite Eight, he sank four in the first five minutes, scoring 12 of the Heels’ first 14 points.
That sigh you heard emanating from the folks wearing baby blue was a gust of relief. If Paige makes 3-pointers, Carolina is the nation’s best team. It has a massive front line, but on some losing nights the Heels’ absence of perimeter shooting has rendered them imbalanced. They entered the Sweet Sixteen ranked 303rd nationally in 3-point shooting. On this night, they made their first seven.
They led Indiana by 11 points at the half, that gap having shrunk from 16. The Hoosiers couldn’t guard Carolina, which made 62.1 percent of its first-half shots. What seemed a glamorous regional semifinal — even the Harbaughs, Jim and John, were in the house to support brother-in-law Tom Crean, the Hoosier coach — became something approaching a blowout.
It got no better in the second half. Paige hit two more treys to finish with 21 points. Carolina won 101-86. The ACC is guaranteed two Final Four teams, having seen Notre Dame win here earlier Friday and with Virginia and Syracuse prevailing in the Midwest semis. (It’s also assured of having a team in the NCAA title game.) But if Paige keeps hitting treys, no team from any conference is beating these Heels.