RALEIGH, N.C. — Kris Dunn, the Big East player of the year, is perhaps the top NBA guard prospect in the country yet he stayed around for his senior season… for moments like this.
Dunn’s 9th seeded Providence Friars go up against the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels Saturday at 9:40 p.m. in the second round of the NCAA East Regional.
But he already had a NCAA Tournament moment Thursday when Providence came from behind to clip Southern Cal in the last seconds.
“Last night is definitely a memory I’m always going to have,” Dunn said. “I don’t really think about the NBA and going pro. I’m glad I came back for my senior year.”
Marcus Paige, the ACC’s preseason player of the year, didn’t have the kind of season Dunn had as far as individual accomplishments and he hasn’t yet enhanced his NBA chances like Dunn has. Still, Paige has no regrets in staying for his senior year.
“I didn’t want to miss out on a chance to play on a team like this that can make a deep run,” Paige said, adding that he wanted to go ahead and finish his education. “A lot of times the money and playing at the next level are hard to turn down. I don’t think anything beats playing these four years. You only get four so you might as well use them.”
The 6-4 Dunn is averaging 16 points a game while the 6-2 Paige is averaging 12. Paige is expected to start the game defensively against Dunn. The two played against each other a couple of times in AAU ball before college.
“He’s an explosive point guard,” Paige said. “What stands out to me is his defense and his length. He’s got really long arms and he uses his quickness to get a lot of steals.”
Paige said he will be a problem but the Tar Heels will throw a lot of guys at him to try to contain him.
Dunn said Paige is a good shooter. “Everybody knows about Marcus Paige,” Dunn said. “He had a good college career. He made a lot of big-time shots for his team.”
One of those shots came against Providence in the second round of the East Regional two seasons ago when Paige hit a late three that helped the Tar Heels edge the Friars 79-77.
This Providence (24-10) team centers its attack largely on two big scorers – Dunn and Ben Bentil (21 ppg) – while North Carolina (29-6) boasts a deep roster with a wealth of potential double-figure scorers on any night.
Some things to know about Saturday’s Providence-North Carolina matchup:
HOMECOURT EDGE: The Tar Heels are 32-1 in home-state NCAA games with the only loss coming in 1979. And they’re playing roughly 30 minutes from their Chapel Hill campus, so expect another blue-clad crowd. “That’s kind of what you expect pretty much at home, I guess,” Providence sophomore Kyron Cartwright said.
CONFIDENCE BOOST: Providence hadn’t won an NCAA game since 1997 before the USC win. Cooley is hoping the momentum carries over. “It’s one going down in history for us,” Dunn said of the win.
JUMPSTARTING MEEKS: UNC junior forward Kennedy Meeks struggled in the Florida Gulf Coast game, looking slow to get off the ground and having shots blocked by smaller players while scoring four points on 2-for-9 shooting. Meeks sounded ready to move on, noting that his performance “looks bad” on film but adding: Saturday “will be better though. Trust me.”
3-POINT SHOOTING: Neither team is a great outside-shooting club. Providence is shooting 32.3 percent from 3-point range, while UNC is shooting 31.5 percent. But they combined to make 16 and shoot 36 percent in their opening-round games. Of note, UNC’s senior Marcus Paige — who has struggled with his shot for much of the year — has had some big scoring games in this arena against rival North Carolina State.
FAMILIAR FACES: The Tar Heels and Friars are meeting on the tournament’s first weekend for the second time in three years. UNC won that 2014 matchup as a No. 6 seed, edging the 11th-seeded Friars 79-77 before Paige’s 19 points.