After a dismal five-game stretch that saw North Carolina junior Luke Maye shoot just 33 percent from the field, the forward was desperate for a change. So, naturally, he got a haircut.
“I knew it was about time to change something up,” Maye said. “I’m not big into superstitions, but I felt like it was something that I needed to get done.”
The transformation inspired him to score 21 points in the first half — one more point than he had scored in the previous two games combined. Maye finished with 32 points and 18 rebounds, both career highs. It was the first time a UNC player had reached 30 points in the Smith Center since Tyler Zeller in 2012.
From the opening tip, it was evident that the forward was locked in on his way to a historic night against Boston College in the eventual 96-66 victory. The junior made his first three baskets, and had eight points before the first TV timeout.
“He was just really determined,” junior guard Kenny Williams said. “I could see it in the locker room before the game. He was like, ‘I got y’all. Don’t worry, I’m coming. I got y’all.’”
Maye’s play inspired a No. 20 UNC squad that showed much more effort than was shown in its two previous contests. After losing two straight games on the road last week, the Tar Heels were in danger of their first three-game losing streak since January 2014.
He and his teammates refused to let that happen. The forward hit a career-high 13 field goals, the most impressive of which was a fall-away baseline jumper from 16 feet out. The 13 field goals were the second most by a Tar Heel player in the 15-year Roy Williams era.
After the Eagles had brought the lead to within six with 9:57 remaining in the opening half, the Tar Heels opened up a 10-0 run in less than two minutes. Maye was instrumental in the run, contributing five points, two rebounds and an assist over the stretch.
With 1:35 remaining in the first half, he had already notched his ninth double-double of the year. It was the third time this season he had compiled a double-double in the first half.
Less than thirty seconds later, he hit a three to give him his eighth 20-point game, and his first since a Dec. 3 home game against Tulane. His first half outburst helped key a 50-35 advantage at the intermission. It was the first time the Tar Heels had opened up a 15-point advantage at half since Dec. 6 against Western Carolina.
The Tar Heels (13-4, 2-2 ACC) collected a whopping 31 rebounds in the first half while starting a small ball lineup for the first time this year, with graduate transfer Cameron Johnson replacing first-year Garrison Brooks. It was the only actual lineup change UNC has made this season — the other was starting Jalek Felton for an injured Joel Berry II in the season opener.
“I basically told them, ‘If you’re going to play small, you better rebound,’” head coach Roy Williams said. “We needed to bounce back, and I think that was a good one.”
Maye led the rebounding effort, and he became the first Tar Heel to record 30 points and 15 rebounds since Antawn Jamison, who won National Player of the Year.
He continued his stellar play in the second half, adding nine more points and helping his team outscore the Eagles 46-31 in the final half.
“Once you see Luke kind of getting into it, celebrating — I saw him throw up the three symbol
— once he gets into it, its hard to stop him,” Kenny Williams elaborated. “We’ve seen it in practice three years now. He’ll get into it, start talking a little bit, and then that’s when everything will start going down."
Maye checked out for the final time on his career night with 2:46 remaining. He walked to the bench as roars erupted and thousands rose from their seats to give the big man a well-deserved standing ovation. Williams, his roommate, fanned Maye on the bench, attempting to cool off the fire that had engulfed the forward.
"Every shot I shot, I thought was going in," Maye said afterward, sporting a black T-shirt that read, "Just A Kid From Huntersville."
"When you feel like that, I mean, it makes the game so much more fun."