CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Marcus Paige ignored the pain in his twice-injured right foot, put his head down and drove toward the rim.
He sent a shot high on the backboard that dropped through the net, giving No. 18 North Carolina a comeback victory that might also jolt the preseason All-America out of his slow start to the season.
Paige's scooping layup with 8.5 seconds left capped UNC's comeback from 13 down in the final 8 minutes to beat No. 5 Louisville 72-71 on Saturday.
"I said jokingly to my teammates that I was back," Paige said. "I know I haven't been playing the way I'm capable of playing, you guys know that, it's pretty well documented at this point. And I need to play better."
Paige, also the preseason ACC Player of Year, missed a tying three-pointer late in a December home loss to Iowa, then missed two shots in the final 10 seconds of Monday's 71-70 home loss to No. 13 Notre Dame. His scoring and shooting percentages are down from last season, when he made a habit of turning in big second-half performances.
But he came through for the Tar Heels (12-4, 2-1 ACC) despite missing part of the second half when he rolled his right ankle, the same foot in which he is battling plantar fasciitis that limited him in recent practices.
"There was no way he would sit back and watch and just allow his team to play without him," teammate Nate Britt said.
Louisville (14-2, 2-1) looked headed for a 3-0 start in its new conference home when it couldn't miss after halftime and built its big lead. But the Cardinals went cold and committed turnovers that helped UNC re-charge its home crowd and build momentum.
The Cardinals had two shots to win, a three-pointer from Wayne Blackshear and an off-balance stickback attempt from Terry Rozier that hit backboard and rim. Rozier finished with 25 points.
"It stings as much as any game I've coached," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "Our players are very hurt by it. But this is the ACC. There are going to be a lot of games like this."