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NCAA Tournament: Luke Maye powers top seed North Carolina back into Sweet 16

North Carolina's Luke Maye (32) shoots against Washington's

North Carolina's Luke Maye (32) shoots against Washington's Noah Dickerson, right, in the second half during a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament on March 24, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio.  Credit: AP/John Minchillo

COLUMBUS, Ohio — North Carolina big man Luke Maye had eight more points than the other team’s top scorer and eight more rebounds than the opponent’s leading rebounder. That is significant, but the real measuring stick for Maye is how he compares with his own past. He is winning that competition as well.

That is no small feat, considering that when he was a sophomore in 2017, the Tar Heels might not have won the national championship without him. He made the buzzer-beater against Kentucky that sent his team to the Final Four.

As a senior, Maye is a much better all-around player, and he will get a chance to keep improving now that North Carolina is in the Sweet 16, having routed Washington, 81-59.

“I saw it when I first stepped on campus for my visit,” said Cameron Johnson, who transferred from Pittsburgh two years ago. “He was playing pickup and he was playing with a lot of confidence. So the Luke I saw when I was playing at Pitt versus the Luke I saw in pickup that day versus the Luke we see today, we just see a lot of growth. And the kid works. He plays harder than just about anybody. He works harder than just about anybody. And that’s a testament to his character.”

All of which is not to say Maye is a one-man show, regardless of his 20 points and 14 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament second-round game Sunday. North Carolina (29-6) is deep and diversified. The Syracuse-inspired zone of Washington (27-9) was no match for freshman forward Nassir Little and freshman point guard Coby White, who had 20 and 17 points, respectively.

The Tar Heels dominated in all sorts of ways, such as outrebounding the Huskies 48-24, as they averted a repeat of last year’s second-round ouster. “We talked about it all summer,” Maye said. “I feel like it’s just a testament to how hard we worked to get back to that spot.”

Maye’s story still stands out. Unlike Little and White, he was not a blue-chipper. He enrolled without a scholarship (he took his chances) and averaged only 1.2 points as a freshman. Even after being the hero in the 2017 regional final, he totaled only two points in two Final Four games. He kept working.

“Coach always said he believed in me from the beginning and he gave me opportunities when I didn’t even think I wanted the opportunities,” Maye said, referring to Roy Williams. “It was big for me to continue to grow and develop as a player.”

Williams recalled having Maye as a junior high student at his basketball camp. “I kept telling his dad, ‘Don’t be in a hurry because I think he’s going to be good enough,’  ” he said. “He had great hands, he could shoot the ball, had a brain that he used and a work ethic. I’ll take all those qualities all the time. I did have confidence in him and still do. And I hope to do it for a long time.”

New York Sports