With this latest installment of the Top 25 performances, we’ve now fully reached the “Put-The-Team-On-My-Back” section of this list. The next five performances are truly special in that the player pretty much single-handedly won the game in question. Here are our next five top UNC performances of the last 25 years:
#15 - Luke Maye Tames the Wolfpack in 2018
I know you remember this one. Two weeks after being dealt a crushing defeat by State in Chapel Hill (darn you, Allerik Freeman!), the Tar Heels returned the favor by riding an explosive 61-point 2nd half to a 96-89 victory in Raleigh.
27 of those 61 points came courtesy of one Luke David Maye. Of all the remarkable performances that came during Luke’s stunning 2017-18 campaign, this was the best. And the sweetest. Luke finished with 33 points and 17 rebounds, coming on 15-22 shooting from the field. Most impressively, he reached 33 points while attempting just one free throw (which he made).
For stretches of the game, Luke was completely unstoppable, at one point scoring ten straight points, none more memorable than a 30-foot three with five minutes remaining (y’know, the one where he put up the three daggers?). Before that game, there had been whispers about Maye possibly being an All-American. After that night in Raleigh, there were shouts.
#14 - Hansbrough’s Heart Takes UNC to the 2008 Final Four
It was happening again. As they had done the year before, the top-seeded Tar Heels had just blown a double digit second half lead to a Big East team in the Elite Eight. In 2007, it had been Georgetown rallying to beat the suddenly ice-cold Heels. In 2008 it was Louisville who had leveled the game.
But Tyler Hansbrough wasn’t having it. The National Player of the Year put in another of his furious efforts to drag the Tar Heels back into the lead and to the Final Four, before a virtual home crowd in Charlotte. Hansbrough finished the game with 28 points and 13 rebounds. Good numbers but not as impressive as other performances he had that season.
What WAS impressive was the manner in which he got them. Louisville’s stingy defense had done a solid job of keeping him off the line (he took just five free throws) and out of the paint. So Hansbrough beat them by nailing a couple of clutch off-the-dribble jumpers over the much taller David Padgett in the closing minutes. Add that to his ferocious rebounding and hustle and you have the most clutch postseason performance of Psycho T’s career.
Don’t take my word for it. As Duke alum Jay Bilas said on the broadcast that night, “Tyler Hansbrough has a heart that no one in America can match, and his will exceeds his skill. And frankly his skill is considerable.”
#13- Shammond Williams Stings the Yellow Jackets in 1998
This had letdown written all over it. Three days after #2 UNC’s thrilling obliteration of #1 Duke at the Dean Dome, the Tar Heels headed for Atlanta to take on unranked Georgia Tech. Smelling the chance to upset #1-in-waiting, the Yellow Jackets brought their A-game. Matt Harpring and Michael Maddox combined for 62 points and Tech played superb upset-worthy basketball all night.
They were denied their upset by Shammond Williams. The senior captain put on a dazzling shooting display, nailing 8 three pointers en route to a career-high 42 points, leading the Tar Heels to a 107-100 victory in a double overtime thriller. Twelve of his points came in the 2nd overtime period, where the Tar Heels finally put away the valiant Jackets.
Shammond Williams had many terrific shooting performances for Carolina (he held the career record for threes at UNC for 19 years) but none were finer than that night in Atlanta. If only he’d saved some of those threes for the Final Four...
#12- Tyler Zeller Carries UNC Past Ohio in 2012
This is without question the ugliest game that will appear on this list. The 2012 Tar Heels had just lost Kendall Marshall to his infamous wrist injury in the infamous game against the infamous Creighton Bluejays. The 13-seeded Ohio Bobcats were about as weak of a Sweet 16 opponent as the wounded Tar Heels could ask for, but Marshall’s absence was especially glaring that night. Carolina committed an atrocious 24 turnovers and shot poorly all night. Harrison Barnes had one of his worst games as a Tar Heel, going 3-16 from the field. By all rights, Carolina should have lost this game.
The Tar Heels lived to fight another day thanks to the heroic effort of their senior captain. Tyler Zeller, the newly crowned ACC Player of the Year, had his signature game as a Tar Heel, willing a listless UNC to a 73-65 overtime victory. Zeller finished with 20 points and a career high 22 rebounds (8 of which he corralled off his teammates’ misses), as well as four blocks.
Like the Tyler before him would at times, Zeller dragged his teammates to victory. It was hard to watch at times but the captain kept his team alive that night.
#11- Hansbrough Saves The Streak Against Clemson in 2008
UNC’s infinite run of home wins over the Clemson Tigers was never in greater peril than it was on February 10th, 2008. One week earlier, the Heels had lost Ty Lawson to a foot injury. Four days later, UNC fell at home to Duke. Now they faced a Clemson team they had beaten in overtime at the buzzer one month before. The Tigers wanted revenge and showed it by surging out to an early 15 point lead. With three minutes remaining, that lead was 11.
The only reason the lead wasn’t 30 by then was Tyler Hansbrough. Having just gone for 28 and 18 in a losing effort against Duke, it looked like Psycho T was going to be valiant in defeat again. But his 26 points in regulation served to keep the Heels in striking distance until his teammates came alive: Danny Green nailed two clutch threes and Quentin Thomas hit the game-tying layup in the dying seconds, sending the game to overtime.
In the first and second overtimes, Hansbrough had 13 points and sealed the game with one of his signature hustle plays, diving on the floor after a loose ball and drawing a foul, a move reminiscent of Dave Cowen’s famous play. He ended with 39 points and 13 rebounds and the Tar Heels won it, 103-93 in double OT. Clemson is still waiting.