CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks came off the bench against NC State on Wednesday and didn’t miss a shot from the field (four for four) in the first half. Hicks and UNC point guard Marcus Paige each had eight points toward the Tar Heels’ 32-26 halftime lead.
UNC won the game 81-79. Hicks scored a career-high 12 points, the fourth time this season his point production hit double figures.
“Isaiah really was big for us, man — 12 points off the bench. Him being aggressive, man, is real big for our team,” UNC sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks said. “I told him on the bus, actually, on the way over here how big this game would be for him. He would just nod his head yes. I guess he got the memo for the whole team.”
Virginia Tech’s players likely got the message about Hicks when they watched video of him denying the basketball to Wolfpack forward Kyle Washington. Brice Johnson wasn’t doing a good job with that, so UNC coach Roy Williams sent Hicks into the game to deal with Washington.
Hicks has graded out as the Tar Heels’ best defender this season, according to UNC’s coaches. He’s a traffic cop on the floor, really vocal about yelling out what’s going on.
“He’s one of the best talkers that we have,” Williams said.
Hicks said the college game has slowed down for him.
“Just seeing the big picture, basically,” Hicks said. “Good defense gives you good offense.”
Hicks is averaging 6.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 14.4 minutes per game.
Paige, a preseason All-American and preseason ACC player of the year, leads UNC with 13.9 points a game, doing it on a right foot with plantar fasciitis that’s attached to an ankle that could use some downtime. He said his hip’s been bothering him, too.
Reserve point guard Joel Berry II, a freshman, has a strained groin that is expected to have him out of the lineup for at least two weeks. So Williams needs Paige, bad foot and all.
Backup point guard Nate Britt II has been solid for UNC. He was on the floor during a UNC home win over what was a No. 5 Louisville when the Tar Heels used three point guards in the game at the same time. Williams said he wants to be positioned to do more of that.
Berry didn’t play against State, so Williams didn’t go small with three set-up men. Double-digit scoring from big guys Hicks, Meeks (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Johnson (10 points, 7 rebounds) helped tame the Wolfpack. Paige had 23 points, nine assists, five rebounds, four steals and no turnovers against the Wolfpack.
“Four guys in double figures, post guys, Kennedy 15 and 10,” Paige said. “That’s some good balance that you like to see. When we do that, we’re tough to beat.”
This article was written by John McCann from The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.