Tar Heels go small, come up big in slump-busting win

Luke Maye set career highs with 32 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Tar Heels to a 96-66 win against Boston College that broke a two-game ACC losing streak

UNC's Luke Maye muscles his way to the basket against Boston College's Jerome Robinson during the Tar Heels' win Tuesday. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

CHAPEL HILL — Roy Williams promised there would be changes after his North Carolina basketball team was held to just 49 points at Virginia in losing its second straight ACC game on Saturday.

And changes there were.

The most visible was the small lineup with which the 20th-ranked Tar Heels started against Boston College on Tuesday at the Smith Center.

But it was hardly the most significant difference.

That turned out to be the sense of urgency Williams’ players showed in rolling to an impressive 96-66 beatdown of the visiting Eagles.

Playing with an energy and aggressiveness it didn’t have in either the loss in Charlottesville or to Florida State a few days before that, UNC got career highs of 32 points and 17 rebounds from Luke Maye and a double-double from first-time starter Cameron Johnson to break out of its slump in a big way.

“When you lose twice with our coach, it’s never going to be easy,” said Maye, a 6-foot-8, a natural perimeter player who manned the center position in a lineup that also included 6-8 wing Johnson, along with guards Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams.

“He really challenged us. He challenged us older guys as well. He said we needed to lead, needed to set the tone better for the guys coming off the bench.”

Set the tone, they did.

UNC’s first basket came on an offensive rebound in which Johnson swooped in from the lane to dunk home a 3-point miss by Berry. It was the first of 13 offensive rebounds in the first half, which produced 18 second-chance points.

After BC answered back with two quick 3-pointers, including one by Raleigh native Jerome Robinson, Maye swung into action by scoring on the Tar Heels’ next four possessions to start a 16-1 run that broke the game open almost as soon as it started.

Maye came into the game as the Tar Heels’ second-leading scorer, averaging 17.3 points per game. But he managed just 20 points combined in the losses at Virginia and FSU. He surpassed that total by halftime, hitting for 21 points to go along with 10 rebounds to help UNC build a 50-35 cushion by the break.

The 50 points were one more than the Tar Heels were able to muster for the entire game Saturday.

“The last couple of games I kind of got down on myself,” Maye said. “I haven’t been the same person. I really came out tonight and wanted to, no matter if I made 12 or missed 12, play the same way. I kept theming myself to continue to work hard. The basket looked pretty big tonight and it was a lot of fun.”

Maye wasn’t the only one to enjoy himself Tuesday.

Johnson, the graduate transfer from Pittsburgh, scored 14 points and pulled down a career-high 11 rebounds for his first double-double as a Tar Heel. He also had five assists. Berry added 13 points and Kenny Williams had 11, while Pinson contributed eight points, eight rebounds and five assists.

UNC (13-4, 2-2 ACC) shot an even 50 percent for the game and held BC to under 40 percent shooting. Three days after not scoring a fastbreak point against Virginia, it hit for 19 against the Eagles.

Of all the impressive stats the Tar Heels compiled, however, none was more eye-popping than its 58-23 rebounding advantage — which included a 23-6 edge on the offensive glass made all the more surprising by the fact that freshmen big men Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley played just 27 minutes between them.

“I basically told them that if we’re going to play small, you better rebound,” Roy Williams said. “It’s pretty simple, but it started off good.”

It finished well, too.

In fact, outside of the first minute-and-a-half of the second half, in which BC scored seven straight points to pull to within eight at 50-42, there wasn’t much that didn’t go well for UNC.

The Tar Heels answered the Eagles comeback bid by scoring 10 straight points to regain control and cruise to a badly needed victory.

Robinson finished with 15 points for BC (11-6, 2-3). Fellow North Carolinian Ky Bowman, a sophomore guard from Havelock, led the Eagles with 21 points.

“It was huge,” Pinson said of the win. “You could tell with the morale in the locker room everybody was like, ‘Man, we needed that one.’ Everyone was still loose. We actually had some really good practices we knew we had to have. Tonight we put it together in a game and that’s what we needed.”