After his team surrendered a seven-point lead to Kentucky in the final minute of the regional final, North Carolina’s Luke Maye drilled a jumper with 0.3 seconds left to give North Carolina a 75-73 win Sunday, not to mention the Tar Heels’ second Final Four in as many seasons.
It was quite a moment, especially inside of the arena.
“Well, it was probably 70 percent, 65 percent Kentucky fans, so the noise was not quite as loud when Malik Monk hit his (jumper) to tie it,” Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Some of the excitement sort of got sucked out, but the Carolina fans sort of made up for it. it was a thrilling moment for them and an amazing moment given Luke Maye’s start of his career and how it all came about.”
Maye’s father played quarterback for UNC, so Maye desperately wanted to be a Tar Heel. He had offers from Clemson and Davidson, among others, but committed to UNC without a scholarship. He only got one when North Carolina lost out on Brandon Ingram, who played for Duke.
North Carolina’s loss has been, well, North Carolina’s gain. Maye, a 6-8 sophomore, scored 16 points against Butler and 17 against Kentucky.
“(Maye) had four double-figure games all year long, and he comes out and sets consecutive career highs in NCAA tournament regional games,” DeCourcy said. “Just a phenomenal story.”
As a team, North Carolina survived in the final minute for the second time in three games. The Tar Heels trailed Arkansas late in the second half in the Round of 32 but ultimately won, 72-65.
“I think it showed these guys they could compete through the tough moments – because they hadn’t done it all year long,” DeCourcy said. “Most of the time, they’re winning by 15 or whatever, and then when they had things rough, they just packed it in. Against Virginia on the road, they did not compete in the second half. They just played to the end. They did not compete. And (against) Arkansas, they realized, ‘If we don’t do it now, we’re done.’ And it was the same today when they were down five against Kentucky. They did a beautiful job in those final five minutes against Kentucky. UK did not score for about five minutes and UK had to dig themselves out of a seven-point deficit in the final minute.”
No. 1 North Carolina (31-7) plays No. 3 Oregon (33-5) in the Final Four this Saturday at 8:49 p.m. ET.
No. 7 South Carolina (26-10), meanwhile, will play No. 1 Gonzaga (36-1) this Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET. Both programs will be playing in their first Final Four, but South Carolina’s presence is infinitely more surprising.
“South Carolina really, at no point in this season, has been a great team except for during the NCAA Tournament – and for a lot of the year, wasn’t even a good team,” DeCourcy said. “But they did just enough earlier in the season, and then they did well enough in the SEC – not great, but they did well enough that they got to the tournament on merit. Now they’ve been playing terrifically.”