As LaPhonso Ellis so aptly put it last night, “The folks here in Raleigh will be very glad to see the back of Luke Maye.” As was the case last year, Luke David Maye is our Player of the Game in a Carolina win over our friends in the capital.
Maye’s Tuesday night effort may have lacked the brilliance of last year’s historic outing (his turnovers were maddening, but pretty much EVERYONE turned it over last night), but make no mistake about it; his shot-making, rebounding, and pressure on the Wolfpack bigs were a big reason why Carolina managed to get out of Raleigh with a win on a night when UNC seemed determined to give the Pack every opportunity to snatch the game from them.
Luke finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, to go with three assists. He hit from downtown, he got on the glass, and he knocked down his free throws. Much has been made about Luke’s struggles this year and his regression in comparison to last year’s breakout campaign. One area where that absolutely has not been the case is at the line. Be honest: Last year, would we have been comfortable with Luke being asked to knock down game-sealing free throws on the road? But this year he’s been more than reliable, shooting 80% from the charity stripe and sinking 7-8 last night, several of which were vital in the closing minutes.
In addition, those fouls he racked up on the Wolfpack bigs were essential in keeping them out of rhythm. Wyatt Walker and DJ Funderburk both found themselves headed to the bench at key moments of the game when their team needed them (Funderburk in particular, who looked terrific last night). NC State’s depth managed to keep them afloat, but they found themselves trying to shoot their way back into the game late without a consistent post presence. Both Luke and an aggressive Garrison Brooks deserve credit for that.
Finally, Luke played a much more solid defensive game than he has for most of the season. Last year at the game in Chapel Hill, State made a concerted effort to isolate Luke against guards, Markell Johnson in particular, and force him to defend at the top of the key. Luke did a far better job of hedging on screens, staying in position against guards, and not allowing the Wolfpack to exploit him a second year in a row. Carolina in general has defended the pick and roll much better in recent weeks and Luke has shown marked improvement on that front.
On the whole, Luke may have lacked the magic of last year’s performance but he still delivered an effective, workmanlike performance in a hard fought victory.
(Honorable Mention goes to Coby, Cam, and Kenny, all of whom had a case to make for POG as well.)