North Carolina has gotten exactly what it's needed from sophomore guard Marcus Paige over the first two games of the season.
The No. 12 Tar Heels will look for Paige to continue picking up the scoring slack in the absence of P.J. Hairston when they take on Belmont in the second round of the Hall of Fame Tipoff on Sunday.
Hairston, UNC's leading scorer last season, and senior guard Leslie McDonald have both been ruled out indefinitely over eligibility concerns involving possible improper benefits. A team spokesman has said there is no timetable for a decision and that the school continues working with the NCAA on the matter.
"It's what it is," coach Roy Williams said. "Everybody's trying to do their best. We're trying to move along."
With no word on when or even if they will return, Paige has stepped up and found his shot during the Heels' 2-0 start. He scored a career-best 23 points Friday night to lead Carolina in a somewhat lackluster 62-54 victory over Holy Cross.
"It's obviously a work in progress because it's something I haven't had to do here yet," said Paige. "But at the same time, you're a basketball player. If the team needs you to step up and be a scorer, then that's what you have to do."
Paige shot 8 for 17 and hit a trio of 3-pointers in 36 minutes after scoring 14 points with four 3s a week earlier in an 84-61 opening win over Oakland.
"Marcus is a good scorer, but Marcus is a basketball player," Williams said. "He has tremendous savvy, he's good defensively. I've got to try to get him more breaks where he doesn't play 36 minutes in a game."
Forward Brice Johnson, another sophomore, also stepped up with 12 points for the Tar Heels, who shot 9 for 33 in the opening half before finally taking control with a nearly 52 percent shooting performance after the break.
Junior forward James Michael McAdoo took on the bulk of the work in the opener with 21 points and nine rebounds before finishing with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting against Holy Cross. McAdoo was second to Hairston (14.6) last season with 14.4 points per game.
North Carolina will look to extend an impressive streak against Belmont. The Heels have won 82 straight home games against unranked teams outside of the ACC - a run that dates to Feb. 20, 2002.
Belmont (2-1) comes in after staging a huge rally against Indiana State to win its home opener Thursday night.
Senior guard JJ Mann scored 23 points - hitting 10 of his 12 free throws - and forward Drew Windler added 17 to help the Bruins rally from a 49-33 deficit at the half for a 96-95 victory over the Sycamores.
The Bruins, who made their sixth appearance in the NCAA tournament last season - their first as part of the Ohio Valley Conference - have lost 17 straight against ranked opponents. Belmont's last win over a Top 25 team came with a 71-67 victory at No. 23 Missouri on Dec. 20, 2003.
The Bruins have never faced the Tar Heels.
After this contest, North Carolina will head to Uncasville, Conn., for a semifinal matchup against Richmond next Saturday. A victory in that game could see this tournament culminate in the Heels facing defending national champion Louisville the next day.
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