Maye Day in Raleigh: Sophomore Luke Maye scored a career-high 13 points

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North Carolina forward Luke Maye (32) blocks N.C. State forward Abdul-Malik Abu (0) on Wednesday night.

Just over two minutes separated the North Carolina men’s basketball team from halftime of its 97-73 win over N.C. State. And for Maye and his teammates, it couldn’t come soon enough.

The North Carolina men's basketball team defeats N.C State in Raleigh
The North Carolina men's basketball team defeats N.C State in Raleigh
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A 17-point lead for the No. 10 Tar Heels (22-5, 10-3 ACC) had dwindled to a six-point deficit for the Wolfpack (14-13, 3-11 ACC) thanks to first-year phenom Dennis Smith Jr., whose layup with 3:24 in the period gave him 17 first-half points and sent PNC Arena into a frenzy.

But Maye had an answer.

Two possessions later, the sophomore forward barreled down the court on the fast break and drifted toward the 3-point line. As teammate Tony Bradley pivoted at the top of the key, desperately looking for an open teammate, Maye called out for the ball.

This was his shot.

“I honestly thought he was gonna shoot it,” said senior forward Isaiah Hicks, whose four fouls thrust Maye into 23 minutes of work on Wednesday. “But then he pump faked.”

Head coach Roy Williams had been preaching the pump fake all night — which was perfect for Maye, who has turned the pump fake into a practice staple. Combining a 6-foot-8 frame with a shooting touch is often too much for flat-footed post players to defend.

“Since he’s such a good shooter, his pump fake is so lethal ...” first-year guard Seventh Woods said. “If you go up in the air, he’s so smart to get right by you.”

So when Wolfpack center Omer Yurtseven sprinted toward him, Maye brought his arms just above his head, mimicking one of the seven 3-pointers he had hit on the year.

The 7-foot Yurtseven flew helplessly past him. Nothing stood between Maye and the basket.

“I see the whole lane clear,” Hicks said. “I was like, ‘Okay, is he gonna do it?’”

Maye is hardly known as a scorer, let alone a rim-rocker. Coming into Wednesday’s contest, the sophomore averaged 5.0 points on 13.4 minutes per game as North Carolina’s fourth option inside.

But with the N.C. State defense conceding the lane — the Tar Heels feasted for 60 points in the paint — Maye put the ball on the floor with confidence.

Two steps, two hands and two of his career-high 13 points. The Wolfpack never again threatened the North Carolina lead.

“It was a good feeling,” Maye said with a sheepish grin. “But I had to get back on defense.”

That “next play” spirit defined Maye’s performance on Wednesday.

With 13 minutes left and the Tar Heels holding a healthy lead, Maye crashed the glass for one of his seven rebounds on the night. Surrounded by two defenders, Maye once again tried to take flight — before 6-foot-5 guard Terry Henderson promptly swatted his hopes into the crowd.

But it was no matter for the jovial UNC big man. Four seconds later, Maye took a quick pass from junior guard Joel Berry and buried it from deep.

“We see it in practice all the time — (it’s) just him finally getting comfortable out there, finally hitting shots and stuff in games,” Hicks said. “That’s all it was. Now, Coach knows he can rely on Luke more.”

While Williams was impressed by Maye’s defensive performance against a smaller N.C. State lineup, the North Carolina coach still had gripes with the forward’s career night: errant 3-point misses, too much dribbling, etc. Even the dunk wasn’t enough to excite the Hall of Fame coach.

But when the Tar Heels needed a spark, Maye did something he hadn’t done all season — a two-handed slam to put the Wolfpack away.

Even Woods, whose athleticism brought him fame as a high schooler, gave high marks to the play that temporarily took the internet by storm.

“For Luke? 10 out of 10,” he said. “By far.”

@CJacksonCowart

sports@dailytarheel.com

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