CHAPEL HILL Marcus Paige felt “exhausted,” he said. James Michael McAdoo wondered if he had ever sweated more. And North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he felt as though he had been hit by a train – twice following No. 14 UNC’s 87 -85 overtime victory Saturday at the Smith Center.
“We had played about the way I feel,” Williams said of the Tar Heels’ performance during much of regulation. “I feel right now like a train ran over me and then backed up and got me a second time.”
Williams sounded hoarse, sick and tired. One thing that made him feel a little better was his team’s toughness, which he had derided after the Tar Heels’ physical, bruising loss to Texas earlier this week.
That defeat came in the middle of a week that the Tar Heels won’t soon forget. It began a week ago Saturday with a victory against Kentucky. Then came Wednesday and the loss against Texas, which defeated UNC hours after the NCAA had cleared senior guard Leslie McDonald, who sat out UNC’s first nine games because he received impermissible benefits. And then came Friday, when UNC announced that it wouldn’t seek to reinstate P.J. Hairston, the junior guard who, like McDonald, found himself surrounded by questions of impermissible benefits.
Paige personified UNC’s overall performance on Saturday. The Tar Heels labored through the first 40 minutes, and at times played as sluggishly as they have all season. Yet, they persevered and found a way.
Davidson held Paige, UNC’s leading scorer, scoreless through the first 31 minutes. He finished regulation with just six points, but needed less than three minutes in overtime to surpass that. He scored UNC’s first two points in overtime on a running jumper, then made a pair of free throws followed by a 3-pointer.
“I couldn’t really find any energy the whole game,” said Paige, who scored 11 of his 17 points in overtime. “But (I made) a couple of plays at the end and then overtime. Crunch time and overtime, I love that kind of (situation).
“The big moment. Stuff like that, when the game’s on the line – that’s when it gets really fun.”
Davidson (4-8) came into the Smith Center having lost seven of its first 11 games. There was a 34-point loss at Duke on Nov. 8, a 13-point loss against Virginia and a 31-point loss against Clemson.
Yet the Wildcats, particularly Davidson sophomore guard Brian Sullivan, gave the Tar Heels all they could handle.
Sullivan, who made seven 3-pointers, led Davidson with 33 points. Only three of those 31 points came in overtime, and those came after Paige had effectively put the game away.
Davidson came close to winning in regulation. The Wildcats led by two points with 30 seconds to play, before Paige tied the game with a pair of free throws, and Sullivan had a chance to win the game with a 3-pointer just before time in regulation in expired.
“I think we were a little late getting the screen for Brian, and Brian had very little options there,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “He was forced to take a shot about four to six feet outside of what we hoped.”
Sullivan’s miss at the end of regulation sent the game into overtime. UNC wouldn’t have made it there without what it received from J.P. Tokoto, who played his finest game of his collegiate career.
Tokoto led UNC with 22 points and 11 rebounds – both career highs – and he also finished with a career-high in steals (five) and blocked shots (four). While Paige and sophomore forward Brice Johnson struggled to score in the first half, Tokoto asserted himself. He was UNC’s best rebounder.
In overtime, McKillop said, the “fatigue factor” affected his team.
Victory didn’t come easily for UNC, but neither had much else during the a long week.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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