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North Carolina handles No. 9 seed Washington, 81-59, earns Sweet Sixteen appearance

Luke Maye

Senior forward Luke Maye shoots a jump shot in the first half against Washington in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on March 24, 2019.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Columbus, Oh., the No. 1 seed North Carolina men’s basketball team defeated No. 9 seed Washington, 81-59, on Sunday to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in the last five years.

What happened?

UNC opened the game by grabbing a quick 6-2 advantage. Graduate guard Cameron Johnson scored the game’s first points, following up a Garrison Brooks missed layup to put the Tar Heels on the board. Luke Maye followed that up with a layup thanks to a nice Brooks pass, and Brooks made a jumper inside after a Washington score.

Later, a Coby White 3-pointer over the top of Washington’s zone defense gave the Tar Heels a 15-8 lead. Another White trey on the next possession made that 18-8. Maye led North Carolina in the first half with 13 points on 5-9 shooting, while White pitched in with 12 points, sinking four of five 3-point attempts.

All told, seven Tar Heels got on the board in the first ten minutes of the game: all five starters, plus first-year wing Nassir Little and junior guard Brandon Robinson. At the 7:52 mark, a Nassir Little and-one layup put UNC ahead, 34-20.

Still, the Huskies’ zone defense frustrated the Tar Heels into 10 first half turnovers, leading to 16 points for Washington. Luke Maye’s fadeaway jumper ended a 4:19 cold stretch for the Tar Heels, then Johnson added a 3-pointer to give UNC a 39-29 lead with 2:17 left in the period.

The Huskies scored two more buckets to UNC's one before the halftime buzzer, giving North Carolina an eight-point advantage with 20 minutes of basketball still to play.

To start the second half, eight points from graduating players – five from Johnson, and a 3-pointer from Maye – gave the Tar Heels a 49-36 lead with 16:47 left, prompting a Washington timeout. 

The Maye 3-pointer was his first of the game, and the Tar Heels as a team had sank seven of their 15 attempts from deep at that point. A pair of Maye buckets inside and a White free throw made for a 13-3 run to start the second half, giving North Carolina a decisive 54-36 advantage.

A quick pair of Washington 3-pointers sliced that lead down to 12, but White had an answer, sprinting downcourt and bursting to the rim for a layup. From that point on, the Huskies never brought the game to single digits, as the Tar Heels managed the game en route to a second round win.

Who stood out?

Luke Maye's 20 points were tied for a game high, and also the most the senior forward has scored in an NCAA Tournament game.

Nassir Little's second half takeover was also a story. The first-year wing had 15 of his 20 points after halftime, and had one dominant stretch over three UNC possessions: a pair of free throws, a floater inside, a block on the defensive end, and a dunk.

When was it decided?

North Carolina's 13-3 run after halftime gave them a considerable 18-point lead, all but putting the game to rest. From there, the Tar Heels were able to cruise to the win – and to the Sweet Sixteen in Kansas City.

Why does it matter?

North Carolina has now made its fourth Sweet Sixteen appearance in the last five years, with the only disappointment coming last season in a second round loss to Texas A&M.

On an individual level, Tar Heel fans should be excited for the postseason emergence of Nassir Little. After recorded 19 points in UNC's first round win against Iona, Little has posted the most points over a two-game stretch in his Tar Heel career, and has shown himself to be a crucial cog for North Carolina come tournament time.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, and will face Auburn on Friday in Kansas City, Mo.

@rwilcox_

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@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com