OK, so this game against a Michigan team was a lot more enjoyable than that game against a Michigan team, no? Four days removed from an absolute debacle against Michigan State, Roy Williams' squad bounced back with a comfortable win over the Michigan Wolverines in Chapel Hill. There was a lot to like last night, from Kenny Williams' endless hustle plays, to Seventh Woods giving the Heels solid minutes off the bench. But tonight belonged to one man and one man alone and that is Luke Maye.
The junior had a nightmare game against the Spartans in the PK80 final, a real wakeup call for him after an astonishing start to the season. Coming into that game, he had been averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds a game, giving him the best five game start in recent memory, and certainly the most unexpected. The honeymoon ended against Tom Izzo's team, however, as he struggled to just 8 points on 3-13 shooting. Worse still, he was only 2-7 from the foul line.
Wednesday night was just what the doctor ordered for him, as he returned to his scoring ways in fine, occasionally jaw-dropping form (a reverse layup and-one that nearly hit the shot clock stands out in particular). Maye finished with 27 points on 11-16 shooting (and 4-5 from the line!), to go with 6 rebounds and 3 assists, allowing all of Chapel Hill to exhale and breathe easy now that the Slayer of Wildcats has his groove back.
A big concern following the MSU loss was whether Maye could still generate offense in the post when being guarded by taller, more athletic bigs. Michigan State, with its three-headed monster of Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Nick Ward, frustrated him throughout with their length and strength. But Maye had no trouble on a couple occasions finishing over Moritz Wagner, once even backing him down on the block. Wagner may not be as athletic as the Spartan bigs, but he's not slouch at 6'11 and 245 lbs.
Maye's confidence throughout the game was heartening to see: Not every player who gets their bell rung is able to bounce back from it right away. But Maye wanted the ball, called for it in the post, and didn't hesitate to attack once he got it. His improved play-making also showed at times, such as when he got the ball at the top of the key, passed up the shot, drove the lane, and hit Garrison Brooks for an open dunk.
Luke Maye is not sneaking up on anyone anymore; coaches and players know he is a force and their defenses will be looking to neutralize him. If he can continue to find his teammates when help defenders charge him, then Carolina won't suffer many more nights like Sunday.