No. 19 UNC had plenty to celebrate after Marcus Paige (center) saved them from an upset in Raleigh. (Gerry Broome/AP)
North Carolina and N.C. State played a game Wednesday with all the trappings of an ACC classic, which is to say the officials alternately submarined both teams' chances and one coach assumed a meme-worthy pose – albeit a peaceful, literal sit-in for Roy Williams -- before the night was complete. Which made what Marcus Paige and T.J. Warren did was all the more brilliant, because it roared over all of that, percussive bombs launched back and forth until the very end.
And at that end, it was Paige off a brush screen and to his left into the lane, and the only guy in his way was Warren, and the Tar Heels' guard had one more shot in him. It banked in for an 85-84 overtime win and another backbreaking disappointment for the Wolfpack. It was a sight to see, and mercifully it allowed everyone to see past more active whistles in decisive moments.
Warren had a career-best 36 points on 13-of-25 shooting, and would someone please check the college basketball trade deadline again? It'd be nice to see one of the nation's most explosive players shipped to an NCAA tournament program instead of the post-apocalyptic NIT brackets. Paige, meanwhile, compiled the even more insane night: He had 35 points, 31 of which arrived after halftime. The last two won it with 0.9 seconds left in overtime, right after Warren missed a free throw that would have made it a two-point Wolfpack lead.
The Associated Press bravely did the math for the rest of us: Warren and Paige alone accounted for 42 percent of the scoring between the teams.
But about those overtime free throws for Warren: Wednesday threatened to be the sequel that should never be made because it is so much more horrible than the first, coming as it did with Syracuse-Duke II still lingering as context. Regulation ended with a no-call on a Warren drive, followed by a whistle during a loose ball scramble for Paige free throws with 3.6 seconds left...followed by officials whistling North Carolina's Leslie McDonald for holding Warren with 1.5 seconds remaining, with the ball not even out of an inbounder's hands.
With 7.7 seconds left in overtime, moments after James Michael McAdoo scored to tie it at 83-83, the North Carolina forward was whistled for grabbing Warren as the Wolfpack initiated their offense. It was at this point that Williams eschewed the court-storming, jacket-flaring tantrum favored by some for more of a non-violent protest, turning his back to the action and taking a seat on the floor in silent disgust.
But Warren made just one of two free throws and Paige came off that screen at the other end, and in a flash all possible controversy was flushed by one last thunderbolt of a shot. North Carolina had a 10-game win streak, and everyone had a game and an ending worth remembering and celebrating this time.
No. 3 Arizona 87, California 59. This was the Wildcats' return match with the program that ended their unbeaten season on Feb. 1, a game in which Arizona forward Brandon Ashley was lost for the year. The backdrop is instructive, if only because the Wildcats looked as formidable Wednesday as they did before the hiccup in Berkeley a couple weeks back. Fifty-percent shooting, five players in double figures, a plus-17 rebound advantage, rattling the Bears into recording more turnovers (14) than assists (10). That is the package that made Arizona a national title favorite before, and Wednesday was a reminder that the Wildcats haven't fallen fully off-pace just yet.
No. 12 Virginia 65, Miami (Fla.) 40. With Syracuse visiting this weekend, and the proclivity of the Hurricanes to muck things up, there was some danger here for the Cavaliers. And then they denied that danger any oxygen, with Miami shooting 26.1 percent and missing all 12 of its three-point attempts. Virginia's 12 wins in a row comprise its longest ACC streak since 1981-82. The schedule set up long ago for a regular-season title run. Either the Cavaliers seize that with Syracuse visiting, or they simply seize up, either way revealing what anyone needs to know about them.
No. 15 Iowa State 83, West Virginia 66. So, the Cyclones. What's the deal here? Fourteen straight wins to start the season, then four losses in five games, and now seven wins in eight games – including a four-game win streak. The best explanation? Iowa State has been playing mostly beatable teams lately and getting the better teams in the maw of Hilton Coliseum. Consecutive road games at Kansas State and Baylor and then a home finale against Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State will be instructive: All are gettable, but all will be mettle-testing. The legitimacy of the Cyclones as a March threat might be clarified soon.
George Mason 69, Richmond 60.