PORTLAND, Ore. — Luke Maye is a star in the making.
The junior forward led No. 9 North Carolina to an 87-68 victory over Arkansas on Friday in the second round of the “Victory” bracket of the Phil Knight 80 Invitational. He finished with 28 points and 16 rebounds.
“I thought Luke was sensational,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
“Going into the game, I’m going to play my game,” Maye said. “I try to run the floor and get some easy ones, kind of get into a flow.”
With the win, the Tar Heels (5-0) will meet the winner of the Michigan State-Connecticut game in Saturday’s championship contest.
Kenny Williams and Joel Berry II led a strong performance by the North Carolina backcourt, combining for 32 points and 10 rebounds.
Jaylen Barford scored 21 points for Arkansas (4-1). Daryl Macon, who scored 27 points in Thursday’s win over Oklahoma, was held to seven points.
Trailing 53-37 early in the second half, the Razorbacks turned up the pressure and went to a full-court press. This stymied North Carolina a bit, forcing the Tar Heels into three turnovers and allowing Arkansas to go on an 11-2 run.
Maye ended the run with a tip-in before Williams scored a quick five points to push the lead back to double digits.
But the Razorbacks had one last run in them. A 10-0 spurt late in the second half cut the deficit to 74-68, with 3:32 to play.
North Carolina responded with its own 13-0 run in which Theo Pinson threw down a massive dunk in traffic that ignited the crowd.
“I thought Joel gets to the line when everything was rocking for them — everybody starts to panic and he goes to the line to make both free throws,” Williams said. “Theo had a big dunk in there and we had a couple stops from that point on.”
North Carolina did a good job of attacking the rim when Arkansas decided to speed the game up with full-court pressure. Instead of settling for contested jumpers, Berry and Pinson got to the basket at will, either getting fouled or leaving easy put-backs for Maye.
The Tar Heels finished the game 15 of 19 from the free-throw line while Arkansas was limited to a 5-of-8 showing.
Arkansas came out with intensity to begin the game, harassing the Tar Heels into five turnovers in the first five minutes. A layup by Adrio Bailey gave the Hogs an 8-2 lead — but it would be the last time they had a lead in the game.
“I thought we came out and wanted to punch them and then they punched back,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Our defense was real good.”
North Carolina went on a 15-2 run over the next five minutes to take a 17-10 lead. Maye and Berry II were instrumental during the run, combining for eight of the 15 points.
An Arkansas 3-pointer pulled the Razorbacks within 23-22 with five to play before a 13-4 run by the Tar Heels ended the half. Maye finished the first half with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds.
NOTES: Maye’s 28 points were a career high, passing his previous career high of 26 against Northern Iowa to begin this year … Maye’s 16 rebounds were also a career high, passing his previous mark of 10 set twice earlier in the season … Macon left the game early in the second half with a lower leg injury and did not return … North Carolina’s 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc was a season-high … Maye is the first UNC player since the 1996-97 season to amass at least 100 points and 50 rebounds through five games.