There’s an added level of difficulty for point guards, regardless of class, in running Roy Williams’s demanding offense system. Paige was not immune to those challenges, needing five games to push his assist-turnover ratio over 1.0 (1.06:1; 18 assists, 17 turnovers).
Through his first eight games as a Tar Heel, the Marion, Iowa product had dished out 23 assists against 21 turnovers. Since then, however, Paige has handed out 25 assists against seven turnovers.
His breakthrough occurred against the Cowboys on Saturday. The freshman point scored six points and posted a 9:0 assist-turnover ratio, marking a career-high in the former and a career-low in the latter.
“It feels good to see those numbers as a point guard,” Paige told reporters during his postgame press conference. “Guys were making shots, and because we were holding them to a low field goal percentage, we were able to get out and get easy baskets, so I think that made my job a lot easier, too.”
Those comments may explain his stat line, but the truth can be found in his understanding of the offense. Not in terms of learning the specifics, but rather in finding a way to insert his own person into system.
Following Friday’s practice, Williams talked briefly with Paige about being confident in who he is as a player and playing to his strengths instead of trying to do everything the right way.
Paige referred to the talk as “a little confidence-boosting conversation.”
“I don’t think I needed one, but when your coach tells you that he’s still confident in you, it doesn’t hurt,” he said. “It definitely helps. It didn’t do anything but boost my confidence even more and let me relax and play my game.”
Paige entered his freshman season intent of learning the system. Once he accomplished that goal, his focus shifted to perfecting the offense, running it correctly each time down the floor. What he found, however, is that by working solely within the frame of the system at all times, he ceased being a basketball player.
Williams’s message was clear: Run the system, but also be Marcus Paige.
“You’ve got to make basketball plays,” Paige said. “You can’t come down to the same spot every time and try to run the same play every time.”
Instead of taking the secondary options that he was given and running those plays by the book, Paige is now looking for openings to score and creases to pass, effectively putting his stamp on the offense.
After all, according to Paige, the ultimate goal is to score baskets out of the offense, not run it to perfection.
Junior wing Reggie Bullock has consistently praised his rookie point guard for his offensive ability and vision. That continued following Saturday’s performance.
“He definitely played well for us,” Bullock said. “He was definitely on his Kendall Marshall.”
As for Paige’s realization, consider it a lesson learned.
“At the end of the day, you still have to be a basketball player,” he said. “You can’t lose who you are.”
Follow IC on Twitter @InsideCarolina.
Like IC on Facebook InsideCarolina.