North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige said he thought Brice Johnson “was kind of due” for a big game. Going 8-for-8 from the field and scoring 19 points was impressive for Johnson, but the same could be said for Paige, who scored 25 to lead the Tar Heels to a 75-63 victory against Maryland in Atlantic Coast Conference action Tuesday night at the Smith Center.

“I just made shots. There’s been games where I’ve gotten a lot of good looks and missed a lot of good looks,” Paige said. “Last game I know I remember I got three wide open 3s in a row and missed them. (Tuesday) night I made a couple.”

More important than Paige’s point total – his highest in more than two months – was the timing of his scoring surges. The dynamic sophomore drilled a 3 with 9:30 left after Maryland cut North Carolina’s to seven. After Dez Wells answered with a traditional 3-point play, Paige converted a 4-point play – the Tar Heels’ first since Ty Lawson hit a 3 and made the ensuing free throw in 2007. Later, when Maryland cut the lead to 62-54 with 4:58 left, Paige drained another 3-pointer. Of Paige’s 25 points, 18 came in the second half when the Tar Heels (15-7 overall, 5-4 ACC) needed him the most. Paige helped North Carolina closeout Maryland, which never came within less than six in the second half.

“I just try to stay aggressive and take open looks,” Paige said. “I guess my mentality does change a little bit as the game goes on, as the team maybe makes a run or if I feel like we need a basket. I have no problem trying to step up and be that guy. … I guess in the second half I kind of come alive.”

It looked like James Michael McAdoo would be “that guy” early. The junior forward had nine points in the first five minutes, converting on a follow dunk, nailing turnaround jumpers and drawing a charge on the defensive end. But the junior forward took one shot during the last 15 minutes of the first half, disappearing from the spotlight and finishing with 12 points. Paige and Johnson filled his void.

“I was sick of seeing the ball go in-and-out of the rim and not going in there,” said Johnson, who had a combined 21 points in his last three games.

North Carolina started on fire and closed the first half on an 11-2 run. Maryland (13-10, 5-5) went without a field goal after Seth Allen’s bucket with 6:25 before halftime, the result of an active Tar Heels defense that forced deflections and altered shots.

“Well, the game was really a lot of fun the first four or five minutes,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “And after that it got to be a lot like work.”