What once seemed so unlikely continued here on Friday. It was another North Carolina game, another win, another day when Luke Maye, the junior forward from Huntersville, was, for long stretches, the best player on the court.
By halftime of the Tar Heels’ 87-68 victory against Arkansas in the second round of the PK80, Maye had already earned his third double-double of the season. He finished with 28 points and 16 rebounds, and by now these performances, once so unexpected, are becoming routine.
Maye entered the season having never scored more than 17 points in a college game. He scored in double figures just six times during his first two seasons at UNC. He has nearly matched that five games into his junior season, after scoring in double figures in all five of the Tar Heels’ victories.
He scored at least 20 points in four of those five games, and two weeks into the season he is averaging a double-double. Maye’s emergence has helped the Tar Heels account for the departures of Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley.
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Without those four players, UNC entered this season with questions about who would provide the kind of scoring on the perimeter that Jackson did, and the kind of production on the interior that the three post players provided. Maye has played a significant role on both fronts.
He has become UNC’s most formidable and effective rebounder, one whose tenacity helps him outwork more physically imposing players. Maye has also been one of the Tar Heels’ best perimeter shooters. After making all three of his 3-point attempts on Friday, he has now made more than 50 percent of 3-point attempts through his team’s first five games.
UNC point guard Joel Berry talks about center Luke Maye's smart play and how his outside shooting adds a new dimension to the Tar Heels post player game. Andrew Carteracarter@newsobserver.com
Maye on Friday helped UNC pass its most difficult test of the season – or, rather, it least its helped the Tar Heels defeat, with relative ease, the most talented team they’ve faced. UNC’s game against Arkansas was a rematch of a second-round NCAA tournament game last March.
In that one, the Tar Heels faced a five-point deficit with less than three minutes to play before finishing the game on a 12-0 run on their way to winning the national championship. In this one, on Friday, UNC trailed by six points after five minutes, but then scored 13 consecutive points.
During that 13-0 run, Kenny Williams made one 3-pointer, and Maye made another. He also scored on a layup to give the Tar Heels a 17-10 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
The Tar Heels never relinquished their lead, and it grew to as large as 13 points during the first half, and as large as 16 points twice in the second. The dogged Razorbacks, though, did not fold. They scored 10 consecutive points to cut UNC’s lead to 74-68 with 3½ minutes remaining.
From there, though, UNC scored the next 13 points: two on a pair of Joel Berry free throws, two more on a memorable one-handed dunk from Theo Pinson, another two on Kenny Williams’ layup, after an Arkansas turnover and then a 3 from Maye before another Williams layup and two free throws from Sterling Manley, the freshman forward.
It was the kind of game-ending run that UNC constructed during its March victory against Arkansas. Back then, it was part of UNC’s journey to the national championship. This time, it was part of the Tar Heels’ impressive early-season resurgence.
Watch UNC's Roy Williams, Joel Berry and Luke Maye discuss the PK80 Tournament win over Arkansas. Andrew Carteracarter@newsobserver.com