When former walk-on North Carolina men’s basketball forward Luke Maye came off the bench to score 20 points and hit the game-winning jumper against Kentucky to propel the Tar Heels to last season’s Final Four, everyone in the country got a glimpse of the sophomore’s talent. But hardly anyone predicted that he’d lead UNC in scoring one year later, especially once Joel Berry II—the team’s second-leading scorer in 2016-17—decided to return for his senior season.
Not only has he done that, but he’s also outworked every single one of his teammates on the glass, hauling in 10.8 rebounds per game. Tuesday night’s game against Boston College was a microcosm of Maye’s season. One year removed from logging three points and five rebounds in 14 minutes of play at Conte Forum, the 6-foot-8 makeshift center exploded for a career-high 32 points and 18 boards, becoming the first Tar Heel to score 30 or more points in the Dean Smith Center since the Brooklyn Nets’ Tyler Zeller in 2012. The Eagles had no answer for Maye, and really UNC as a whole, as the Tar Heels ran away with a 96-66 victory, their 11th-straight over BC.
Last year’s meeting between the two teams came down to the rebounding battle. The Eagles’ backcourt of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson did all they could to keep BC in the game, but 51 combined points weren’t enough to combat UNC’s froncourt. From start to finish, the Tar Heels’ three-headed monster of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Theo Pinson feasted on the offensive glass, racking up 16 rebounds and 24 second-chance points. Even without Meeks or Hicks, the Tar Heels haven’t wavered in the rebound department this season. Regardless of the fact that, with its small lineup in, its tallest player on the court checked in at 6-foot-8, UNC—the third-best rebounding team in the nation—was just as effective in the paint this time around against BC. In fact, it was even more dominant.
After Robinson and Jordan Chatman drilled a pair of 3-pointers, the No. 20 Tar Heels (13-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast) quickly erased BC’s (11-6, 2-3) first and only lead of the game. On the first of their three 10-plus point runs, Maye scored eight points. To get things going, he knocked down a shot off a dribble-drive. Then, he drained a turnaround jumper. Recording his third-consecutive bucket, Maye backed down on the 6-foot-10 Nik Popovic and hit a fadeaway shot from mid-range. Moments later, he shook Steffon Mitchell with a pump fake inside and finished at the rim for an easy two.
In less than seven minutes, Maye essentially made the entire Eagles frontcourt look silly. More importantly, UNC outrebounded BC, 16-4. The Tar Heels racked up eight offensive rebounds during that stretch, including five on a single possession.
The trio of Robinson, Bowman, and Chatman, which scored 31 of the Eagles’ 35 first-half points, carried BC. Yet every time they started to chip away at UNC’s lead, a Tar Heel had an answer, and typically, it was from downtown. Just when Chatman netted a couple of triples to draw the Eagles within six, UNC rattled off its second 10-0 run of the night. Down 33-17, BC needed a spark before the half. Right on cue, Bowman, who finished with a team-high 21 points, started to fire away from beyond the arc. But he was no match for Maye—in the waning minutes of the half, the junior matched both of Bowman’s 3-pointers and tipped in another shot to put the Tar Heels up, 50-35, at the break.
Head coach Jim Christian had to consider his team lucky that it was only down 15 at intermission. Over the course of the opening 20 minutes of play, the Eagles gave up 12 fastbreak points, 18 second-chance points, and, worst of all, were outrebounded, 31-10.
The only way BC was going to stage comeback was if it shot lights out from the field in the second period. And for a while, it did. The Eagles drilled seven of their first 10 shots in the back half of play. Steffon Mitchell made a couple of outside shots, Chatman delivered from 3-point land, and both Popovic and Bowman finished at the rim with dunks. The only problem was that the Tar Heels were just as hot.
UNC went 5-of-7 to start the second half, continuing to ride Maye, who already had a double-double. BC could only go neck and neck with the defending national champions for so long. Eventually, the Eagles ran out of gas.
The Tar Heels capitalized, stringing together the largest of their three runs: a 16-4 dagger that turned a 10-point game into a 22-point blowout. As soon as Maye took a seat on the bench, it was Berry II’s time to shine. Following a perfect lob pass to Garrison Brooks off the inbound for a one-handed slam, the senior rattled in back-to-back 3-pointers.
Even after Bowman ended a three-minute Eagles scoring drought, BC’s offense was lifeless. Aside from a couple more perimeter shots and a highlight-reel Robinson dunk, the Eagles floundered for the rest of regulation.
On the other end of the court, UNC was putting on a show. Sterling Manley and Jalek Felton threw down a handful of punishing dunks, and a couple other reserves like Brandon Robinson and Shea Rush etched their names in the box score. On Maye’s historic night, it was only fitting that the Tar Heels closed out their 30-point win with walk-ons on the floor.
Since last season, BC jumped 177 spots in the nation’s rebounding rankings, nearly cracking the top 25 prior to Tuesday night’s game. But against UNC, the Eagles were pedestrian at best, recording a mere 23 boards—the same number the Tar Heels totaled on the offensive glass. After dropping its first two ACC games by a combined five points, BC’s loss to UNC served as a reminder that the Eagles, although much-improved, are just as unpredictable as they were a year ago.
Featured Image by Gerry Broome / AP Photo