Last night the reigning National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels took on the Northern Iowa Panthers. The Heels got off to a little bit of a slow start in the first half, before blowing the door wide open and beating NIU 86-69.
Joel Berry II and Cameron Johnson were both out with injuries, and so it was uncertain where the firepower would come from on the offensive side of the ball. That is when a UNC favorite stepped in and took over the game. Fans may be familiar with his work.
Luke Maye finished the game shooting a career-high 26 points, 10 rebounds, 1 steal, and one block. Maye’s 26 points were scored in 28 minutes of play, coming dangerously close to scoring one point per minute.
UNC had a little bit of a difficult time getting anything going in the paint early on in the game. Whether it was by design or not, the Heels kept the ball outside a lot more than what we’ve seen the past couple seasons. After struggling to pull away from NIU close to 10 minutes into the first half, Maye began to take over the game on the boards as well as on offense.
Once he was able to get going, Maye became just about unstoppable. He was 2 of 3 from behind the arc, and was hitting shots from basically anywhere he wanted to on the floor. The spark he provided to UNC was greatly needed, as the absence of Joel Berry left a lot of questions as to where the leadership on the floor would come from until he is able to return. It is safe to say that that question has been answered, and it would not be surprising to see a similar performance Wednesday against Bucknell.
Following the game, Roy Williams was asked if there was ever a time that he could foresee Luke Maye dropping as many points as he did in a game:
“The answer is yes and no. I wouldn’t recruit players if I didn’t think they could be really good. I’m not recruiting someone just because his dad was a nice guy when I was an assistant coach or anything. I really think he has a chance to be a good player. He was in our camp for a few years and I kept saying to his dad, ‘Don’t sell yourself short, he’s going to have a chance.’ I really wanted him, told him I really wanted him, and told him he would surprise people and be very good. What you don’t know is how much they want it. I knew that Tyler Hansbrough wanted to be a great player and was going to work, and you hope that with everybody, but I think Luke has fulfilled my expectation for how badly he wants to be a good player, and then some. His desire is off the charts. I’ve never recruited a guy thinking he wasn’t going to be very good. Big guys who can shoot the ball give you another thing to think about.”
Following the losses of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley to the NBA draft, it was unknown if Luke Maye and the three freshmen big men would be able to do enough to soften the blow of losing that much talent. Maye proved that not only is he willing to step up this year, but he is going to be a strong All-ACC candidate. If he continues to perform at this level, it will further open up opportunities for his fellow teammates, making them an even more dangerous threat than anticipated for the 2017-18 season.