Paige scored 18 of his career-high 26 points after halftime. The sophomore guard missed seven of his first eight field goal attempts, including three of his first four 3-point tries, before connecting on all five of his 3-pointers in the final 15:39.
His first 3-pointer of the second half gave UNC its largest lead at 47-40. Richmond rallied with an 11-4 spurt to tie the game at 51-all before Paige answered with a trey 24 seconds later.
Richmond knotted the score again with 8:40 to play at 56-all on Kendall Anthony’s 3-pointer, but Paige matched him 18 seconds later to give the Tar Heels a lead they would not relinquish.
Paige (6-of-13, 6-of-9 from 3) cemented the final result with his career-high sixth 3-pointer with 2:39 to play to increase UNC’s lead to 71-62.
“I got in a little rhythm,” Paige told reporters following the game. “I found my spots that were weak in the zone, so we exploited that. I was able to knock down a couple of big threes when they tightened the game up.”
Paige’s performance was critical for a UNC squad missing its two best perimeter shooters in P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, who did not make the trip as the school continues to work with the NCAA to determine their eligibility status.
Tar Heels not named Paige were 0-of-4 from 3-point range against Richmond’s stingy matchup zone defense. The lack of an outside scoring presence early allowed the Spiders to clamp down on UNC’s interior scoring.
Once Paige warmed up, the defense had to extend, which gave UNC’s post players breathing room to operate.
“When he was hitting threes, it was opening it up more for me on the inside,” said forward Brice Johnson, who posted career highs with 24 points and 12 rebounds. “That’s what we really need - we need somebody to go out there and knock down some threes so that it will open up the lane for everybody.”
UNC shot 41.1 percent (14-of-34) prior to Paige’s second-half hot streak and 55 percent (11-of-20) over the final 15:39.
For Paige, the evolution into a scorer’s role at the off guard position has finally turned into box score results.
“The coaches keep telling me that I have to be aggressive,” Paige said. “We have to have guys attack from the perimeter, so it’s just something I have to do. I’m starting to get more comfortable with it.”
UNC's head coach dismissed the notion that Paige had to go through any major transformation to become a scoring threat, stressing that he served in that role as a point guard in high school.
“I think he is a scorer,” Roy Williams said, “and we’ve got to do a better job screening for him and getting him the ball.”
If anything, Paige now playing off the ball could be a greater hindrance to his scoring than if he was still playing the point, according to Williams.
“I don’t know that it’s any easier to score [at the two],” Williams said. “As a matter of fact, I’ve always thought that it’s easier to score as the point than it was as the wing. Somebody’s got to throw you the ball at the two. One, it’s already in your hand.”
Paige is now shooting 51.9 percent (14-of-27) from 3-point range. That trend will have to continue, especially against No. 3 Louisville on Sunday, considering his teammates are managing just 12.5 percent (2-of-16) from behind the arc.