Huntersville’s Luke Maye could not keep the smile off his face in the locker room Monday night after his North Carolina team edged Gonzaga 71-65 for the national championship.
“Nothing could mean more than this,” said Maye, who is from Huntersville and went to Hough High in Cornelius. “I came here because I wanted to be a national champion, and we finally did it.”
In this case, “finally” is a relative term. Maye is a sophomore who has only played two seasons for the Tar Heels. In those years, North Carolina finished second in the country one year and first the next.
A reserve forward, Maye had been the hero of the previous weekend’s games. He scored a total of 33 points in Memphis in two contests and hit an 18-foot buzzer-beater against Kentucky that will forever be regarded as one of the best shots in the school’s history.
Maye was named the Most Outstanding Player of the South Regional after scoring a career-high 17 points vs. Kentucky and then drew more praise when he showed up for his 8 a.m. business accounting class the next day, drawing a standing ovation from his classmates.
In Arizona, however, Maye did not play as well or as often. Plagued by foul trouble in both games, Maye had only two points the entire Final Four – both on free throws against Oregon. He didn’t have a field goal all weekend, had several shots blocked and didn’t score at all in the national championship game, playing 10 minutes and accumulating three fouls.
Maye couldn’t have cared less.
“I thought I did some good things but I got in early foul trouble,” Maye said of his performance in the title game. “It doesn’t matter how I played, though. It’s how the team plays. Whether I scored four points or zero points or however many points – just as long as we win.”
Maye’s entire immediate family was in Arizona for the championship game against Gonzaga – his parents Mark (a former UNC quarterback) and Aimee came. So did his three younger brothers, including Cole – who is a freshman pitcher at the University of Florida but was able to fly out at the last minute.
“I got to hug all my brothers and a couple of my cousins right after the game,” Maye said. He hugged senior Kennedy Meeks afterward as well.
It was Meeks had endorsed Maye’s recruitment to coach Roy Williams in 2013 after Maye’s Hough team had beaten Meeks’ West Charlotte squad, and the two formed a fast friendship after that. All season they called themselves “the boys from 704, referring to the area code for both Huntersville and Charlotte.
“Yep,” Maye said, “the boys from 704 got themselves a championship. And that’s awesome.”