Luke Maye’s game-winning shot to beat Kentucky on Sunday is an all-timer. It will hold a special, prominent place in the history of North Carolina men's basketball given the circumstances, the opponent, the setting and Maye’s story.
But how did it happen? Here’s an in-depth look at how the sophomore's last second shot came to fruition.
To set the stage, Malik Monk’s shot (an incredible one) has just gone in the basket. The game is now tied, 73-73, and there are officially 7.2 seconds left on the clock when UNC gets the ball back.
Kennedy Meeks, standing underneath the basket, quickly grabs the ball and prepares to inbound.
Both Joel Berry and Theo Pinson sneak in looks at the clock. There’s no panic. Everyone understands what they have to do because head coach Roy Williams has drilled these types of scenarios into his team practice after practice.
“As I said earlier, if it's six seconds or more, we try to push,” Williams said. “If it's five seconds or less, we'll call a time-out. I had a time-out left, but I like to try to score in the open court, and we practice that way every day. Believe it or not, we have practices where we play with a 15-second shot clock because I want them to push the ball hard enough to get a great shot in 15 seconds, not just throw it up.”
Kentucky’s big center, No. 3 Bam Adebayo, smartly jumps in front of Berry, denying him the ball. Without Adebayo doing so, the ball ends up in Berry’s hands and Maye likely never takes the shot. Williams explained after the game why this might have actually been a good thing.
“Theo made a heck of a play,” Williams said. “I was really glad the ball went to him because I didn't know how hard Joel would be able to push.”
Berry was dealing with two bad ankles and might not have had enough left in the tank to attack the basket as quickly as Pinson did.
Pinson grabs the ball and prepares his attack up the court. Behind, beside and around him, the Tar Heels perfectly fill their lanes on the fastbreak.
One of the keys to a successful fast break is "filling your lane.” Essentially, you want space on the floor and don't want everyone running to the same spot. The Tar Heels are experts at this, though, as they’ve done it a thousand times in games and in practices over the years. All North Carolina ran was an accelerated secondary break, and their experience and organization showed in the result.
At this point, Pinson is assessing his options. The Wildcats have smartly taken away Justin Jackson and Berry on this play, faceguarding them and making it very hard to kick it out to either. Pinson will have to do it himself.
Pinson is still going full tilt here, but Maye has pulled up. The improvised play is starting to form — Pinson will drive at Maye’s man, hopefully clearing some space for Maye to take a quick jumper.
Take note of Adebayo above, circled in white behind the play. Adebayo trails the play and is essentially a non-factor throughout. If North Carolina would have called a timeout, Adebayo and the Kentucky defense would have been set up, and the help defense organized to best prevent a clean look at a shot.
Pinson clears out the lane and just dumps it off to Maye.
“Theo just drove down court and kind of was penetrating towards the basket and kind of picked my man a little bit,” Maye said. “And I just kind of stepped back and he gave me the ball. And I just shot it, and luckily it went in. It was a great feeling.”
When you go back and watch the video of the play, or even read how he describes it, Maye never hesitates. There’s maybe an opportunity for a pass to Berry, an even slimmer chance at a crosscourt pass to Jackson... but Maye never thinks about those options. He’s taking the big shot the whole time, and there’s something to be said for that.
The ball falls through the net and a legend was born in Chapel Hill.
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