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UNC 93, Louisville 76: Heels cruise to 5th straight win

Joel Berry started hot. Luke Maye finished strong. In the middle the Heels earned a critical win.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina traveled to Louisville holding a half-game lead over the Cardinals for the coveted 4th spot in the ACC rankings. They walked off the court with a 1.5 game lead over the Cards and maintain control of their own future as they chase the double-bye in Brooklyn and a high NCAA tournament seed.

In order to accomplish that feat, they had to make history. Five days after being the second UNC team to win three ACC regular season games in just 120 hours (the first was in 1980) these Heels became the first UNC team to win in the KFC Yum Center. They did it on the back of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, and some timely hot shooting from behind the arc.

North Carolina pounced early on the Cardinals, using a 10-0 run to reach a quick 12-3 lead thanks to three-pointers from Cameron Johnson and Theo Pinson. That run was followed by an 85 second comedy of errors that resulted in (but was not limited to), four Louisville turnovers , a missed jumper by Cam Johnson, a missed three from Berry, and missed lay-ups by both Johnson and Berry that were blocked by Louisville’s Anas Mahmoud.

Louisville’s Quentin Snider ended that circus with a three pointer to cut the lead to 12-6. That set the tone for the rest of the half. At times both sloppy and entertaining, The Heels slowly built 19 point lead on the back of a three-point barrage (8-17), and 18 points from Joel Berry (4-10 from three in the first half).

UNC held a 15 point lead when Theo Pinson left the game with 6:01 left in the half after drawing his second foul. By the time the first half buzzer sounded the Cardinals had clawed back to within 9 points, thanks to equally hot shooting. They entered halftime after hitting 5 of 9 attempts from deep.

The second half was much more of the same as the North Carolina pushed the lead back up to 15. Louisville didn’t roll over for the visitors from Chapel Hill, but they never got closer than seven points the rest of the night. Every time the Cardinal faithful rose to their feet, hoping to will their team to a comeback, the Heels responded with a key play of their own. That included a Luke Maye falling-to-the-side-shot-clock-winding-down circus three pointer two Louisville defenders with 3:24 left to push the lead back to 83-73.

In fact, Luke Maye picked up in the second half where Joel Berry left off in the first. In the final 6:02 he provided three daggers to the Cardinals chances for victory. A two-hand dunk, and 2 three pointers pushed the Tar Heel lead to double-digits on each separate occasion. Maye, who finished with 19 points (17 in the second half) and 13 rebounds, may have forced his name to the top of the list of ACC Player of the Year candidates - especially as the presumed front runner, Duke’s Marvin Bagley, is expected to miss his third straight game against Clemson on Sunday.

However, this was also a total team effort in the victory. All five starters scored in double-figures, and a 17-11 advantage on the offensive glass (44-32 overall) led to 22 second chance points for the Heels. They only got to the line 10 times, but hit 9 free throws. Besides, when a team shoots 12 for 27 from deep, a lower free throw count can be expected.

For the Cardinals, Deng Adel returned from injury to score 20 points off the bench. Ray Spalding poured in 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for his own double-double. The Cardinals made 7-17 from three, but just 2-8 in the second half. They also shot 13-22 from the foul line, for a dismal 59.1%.

Joel Berry led all scorers with 23 points (5-11 from three). He also contributed 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 block. Pinson continued to stuff the box score with 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively.

The Heels get a few days to rest before they head to Syracuse on Wednesday and take on Jim Boeheim’s famed zone. You know the one. The defense that has never won a game in the ACC Tournament.

Bring on the ‘Cuse.