Luke Maye had a happy homecoming Friday night as North Carolina overcame a good effort by Davidson to defeat the Wildcats 85-75 at the Spectrum Center.
Maye – who was recruited as heavily as you can be by Davidson but ended up choosing his parents’ alma mater of North Carolina - had 24 points Friday and a career-high 17 rebounds. Joel Berry had a game-high 27 points for the Tar Heels, who improved to 7-1 while dropping Davidson to 3-3.
“The only guy that wanted Luke Maye as bad as me was Bob McKillop,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams of his counterpart at Davidson. Both coaches made numerous trips to Hough High in Cornelius to watch Maye play in high school, but Williams was also helped by the fact that Mark Maye, Luke’s father, started at quarterback for the Tar Heels in the 1980s.
It was no surprise that Luke Maye played so well, really – it would have only been a surprise if he didn’t. Maye had already scored 20 or more points in five of the Tar Heels’ first seven games entering the Davidson contest after not surpassing that barrier a single time in his first two seasons. Maye already had a double-double against the Wildcats by halftime, with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Fans in Charlotte are used to yelling “Luuuuke” – although usually for Panthers middle linebacker Kuechly – and the Tar Heel supporters chanted the same cheer repeatedly on Friday. The loudest “Luuuke” came not after any of Maye’s layups, nor even after his one dunk, but instead when he jumped at the baseline and gave UNC another possession by throwing a loose ball off the leg of a Davidson player while going out of bounds.
Davidson was hurt not only by Maye and Berry, but by getting out-rebounded by the enormous margin of 54-23. The Wildcats appeared fatigued at times in the second half, as the Tar Heels beat them to numerous loose balls.
Said McKillop: “We certainly met a team that just wore us down from the pace that they had.”
Still, Davidson led 17-10 early and stayed within striking distance for most of the game.
The Spectrum Center was a little more than half full, and of the 11,395 in attendance it looked like about 70 percent were clad in Davidson red and black. Most of the student body of Davidson seemed to be in attendance, and the students sang along with “Sweet Caroline” at the eight-minute timeout in the second half just like they do for every home game at Belk Arena.
By that point in this game, though, Davidson was down by 17 points – having gone ice-cold in what was a four-point game with 13 minutes to go.
Peyton Aldridge, Davidson’s leading scorer at 22 points per game coming in, kept finding his way to good shots but also kept missing them. Aldridge got to his 22-point average, but finished 7-for-23 from the field. Davidson freshman guard Kellan Grady had some nice moments, scoring 18 points and stuffing Maye from behind on one big block. “Grady is impressive,” Williams said.
But ultimately the Tar Heels were too big and too strong, as is usually the case in this series. The Tar Heels have now beaten Davidson nine times in a row, and the formula is familiar. Davidson must be ready to outshoot the Tar Heels from three-point distance – by a lot – to have a chance.
In this game, Davidson had 14 3-pointers and UNC had five. But the Tar Heels had 48 points in the paint compared to Davidson’s 18, with much of that good work coming from Maye.
If Maye had gone to Davidson, maybe the result of this game would have been reversed. Maybe not. But there was no denying the fact Friday night that Maye -- and Berry, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four for the champion Tar Heels in 2017 -- made the ultimate difference.