The stat line comparison from the first meeting in January was brutal. Brown delivered game-highs in points (20) and assists (11) while Paige scored seven points on 2-of-11 shooting to go along with four assists and three turnovers.
“That was the first time I had played against a really big-time player, so he got the best of me big-time in that matchup,” Paige told reporters during his postgame interview.
Brown dominated from the start in Raleigh, guiding his team to a 45-26 halftime lead. The junior point guard wasn’t as effective in the opening 20 minutes this time around, scoring four points and dishing out three assists. Paige countered with four assists despite not scoring any points.
Most importantly, Paige was effective defensively by staying in front of his opponent and limiting penetration and kick-out opportunities.
“I just wanted to come out tonight and try to contain him as best as I could and just be aggressive,” Paige said. “I couldn’t let him have a big night like he did last time because he makes their whole offense go. Just try to contain him and do as much as a I can to make things difficult for him and it ended up working out.”
That it did. Brown finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting and 12 assists against four turnovers. The Roswell, Ga. native notched his 12th dime with 8:06 to play to give N.C. State a 55-52 lead on a C.J. Leslie dunk.
Over the next 7:46 – until two garbage baskets with 20 seconds to play – Brown didn’t register an assist or point.
"Marcus [saw] the things that he didn't do against him the first time,” Reggie Bullock said. “He watched film of what Lorenzo liked doing - pushing the ball in transition, attacking in transition – and tried to make things tough for Lorenzo. “
Paige’s offense, however, is what stands out most about his performance. He scored all 14 of his points over the final 12:43, including a pair of 3-pointers that erased a one-point deficit.
“You just have to be able to step up and make big shots,” said Paige, who finished with eight assists, three steals and no turnovers. “If defenses are going to leave you open, they’re basically challenging you to make a shot like that. So to step up and knock it down for my teammates was really big for me.”
His second 3-pointer – a shot that he hesitated to take in transition after a N.C. State turnover – gave UNC a lead it would not relinquish with 7:15 to play. When that ball found the net, Paige exploded with emotion as he ran back down the court.
“I was really excited,” Paige said. “I got pumped up… it builds up in you. When that team has you down 28 at their place – it’s kind of a rivalry game – you really want to make a statement with this game. To have a momentum swing like that, I just got really excited.”
His offense wasn’t limited to the perimeter. With North Carolina up 62-57 and the shot clock winding down, Paige waved off his teammates to create space and took Scott Wood off the dribble. He scored on the play and converted the free throw after drawing the foul.
“I saw an opportunity and we had good spacing and I thought that I’d have the quickness advantage on him and was just able to get to the basket,” Paige said.
While his 3-pointers confirmed that North Carolina wasn’t going away, his drive on Wood signaled a UNC victory was imminent.
“I thought he played really well,” N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said. “He was under control. I thought the couple of threes there and his drives to the basket were timely more than anything.”
Paige placed a greater emphasis on his eight assists and zero turnovers than his points, which speaks to his approach manning the point guard position. His ability to capitalize scoring the ball in late-game situations, however, has become a critical part of his development.
“My little freshman is a tough little nut,” Roy Williams said. “He's getting better and better as we go along.”