In Chapel Hill, it’s another day at the University of North Carolina campus. Students are busy at school, gearing up for the concluding evaluations before spring break. But there is an unconquerable energy amongst the student body. On Wednesday evening, their beloved North Carolina Tar Heels traveled to Cameron to take on their arch-rival Duke Blue Devils. In a shocking upset, the Tar Heels beat Duke on their home court in Cameron 88-72, sending a message to the nation that North Carolina should not be underestimated.
On Thursday, it would not be an astonishing reality to see North Carolina senior Luke Maye attending class. He may get an extra pat on the back from his classmates after the small forward put up 30 points and 15 rebounds in the upset over Duke. After generating a combined 14 points the last two games, the outcome on Wednesday once again demonstrated Maye’s ability to rise to the occasion in big games.
“At the end of the day, as long as we win, that’s the most important thing,” said Maye after the game. “My job always is to play hard, make easy shots and guard well along the perimeter. We have a lot we can improve on after tonight but I’ll take the win.”
Sports Entrenched in Luke Maye’s Upbringing
Before Luke Maye was a critical asset for the North Carolina Tar Heels, he was raised in the small town of Cornelius, North Carolina. Maye’s house would be approximately two hours from the North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill. From an early age, the youngster would become indoctrinated into understanding the meaning and importance of basketball in North Carolina.
Sports was ensconced in Maye’s family roots. His father, Mark Maye, was a quarterback for the University of North Carolina from 1984 to 1987. Luke’s younger brother Cole also caught the athletic gene, becoming a starting pitcher for the University of Florida.
But it would be basketball where Luke Maye would find his calling. The 6’8 forward attended William A. Hough High School in his hometown of Cornelius. As a senior at Hough, Maye averaged 20.7 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. His ability to use his size to be physical in the post allows him to generate easy buckets. This skill set is what caught the attention of Roy Williams, ultimately earning Luke Maye a spot on the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball squad.
For his performance in high school, Maye would be a two time All-American athlete. This past January, William A. Hough and the community of Cornelius congregated to retire Maye’s jersey in the rafters. An honour that the current Tar Heels senior will forever be grateful for.
“I can’t describe the feeling of having my high school jersey retired!” Maye wrote on Instagram after the ceremony. “It was my dream to leave a legacy at the place I called home for four years. So many great memories that I would not trade for the world!!! Thank you to everyone who made this night so special and I will forever be a Husky!
Maye Becomes North Carolina Legend with Buzzer Beater
As a freshman, Luke Maye often was sitting at the bench. His team was loaded, led by Marcus Paige, making it all the way to the National Championship. He would watch as Villanova Wildcat Kris Jenkins would convert a buzzer beater, breaking the hearts of Tar Heels fans across the country.
But a year later, Maye would earn his place in the annals of North Carolina Tar Heels history. In the South Regional final against the Kentucky Wildcats, after Malik Monk tied the game with a three-pointer, Maye would get the game-winning jump shot with 0.3 seconds left. It was the pinnacle moment that every young athlete dreams of, and it was two of Maye’s career-high 17 points that earned him the South Regional Most Outstanding Player Award. Two games later, Maye would be celebrating with his teammates, cutting down the nets in Phoenix as the newly crowned National Champions.
The small forward will forever be remembered for showing up to his business class at 8 a.m. the Monday after his epic Elite Eight performance. The students in this class stood as one, giving the sophomore a standing ovation for getting the Tar Heels to the Final Four. It would highlight that no moment would phase Maye, and he often brings his best basketball when the adversity is at its peak.
“He just works harder than the other guy. … Whoever is playing him can’t take possessions off,” stated Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari.
Maye Thrived in Roy Williams’ Game Plan Against Duke
Before Wednesday’s contest, there were 242 meetings in the grand history of the Duke/North Carolina rivalry. The last time the two schools played at Cameron in 2018, the Blue Devils crushed the Tar Heels by ten points 74-64.
Heading into this match-up, the Duke Blue Devils were the undoubted number one team in the country. With superstar players Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, it would present a tremendous challenge for the Tar Heels, who came off a difficult loss to their ACC-rival Virginia Cavaliers. North Carolina got an early break when Williamson went down with a knee injury and did not return to the game. The fast-paced game Roy Williams likes to preach to his players would be allowed to thrive without Williamson in the lineup.
Despite poor shooting in the opening half by both teams, North Carolina dominated in the points in the paint category. 34 of Carolina’s 42 points in the first half were in the paint, while Duke generated less than 10. The Tar Heels were winning the battles on the glass all night, out-rebounding the Blue Devils 45 to 37. And it would often be Maye in the middle of beating Duke on the transition, and generating the easy layups in the paint.
“It seemed like every loose ball, we did not come up with it,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski after the game. “They were playing really hard. They played to win.”
“We wanted to be able to score in the paint, there’s no question,” stated Roy Williams. “Luke made a couple nice plays getting the ball to other players and not trying to force it.”
Luke Maye’s Duke Performance Evidence for Stellar Senior Season
For Luke Maye, his performance against Duke, with President Obama in the audience, is another piece of evidence for his stellar senior season. He is currently averaging 15.1 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game and 2.1 assists per game, with a 44 percent field goal percentage.
But more importantly, Maye is demonstrating his leadership ability in the locker room. With a younger team that is yet to experience the reality of playing big games in the March Madness, they will rely on the senior to inspire them in order to have a deep run in the Tournament. There is more history left to be written but for Maye, he wasn’t going to let the future creep into his mind when discussing the importance of beating a rival like Duke.
“It’s always fun to play at Cameron,” said Maye. “After two tough losses here, our goal was just to try and maintain the lead. We did that and coming out of here with a victory is such a great feeling.”