How an observation by Kenny Williams led to open 3 for Luke Maye, and a win over Miami

Coby White had just made his fifth consecutive 3-pointer when Kenny Williams began to notice something.

Williams, a senior guard, saw that Miami had begun to double-team White as he came off screens. At that point, White had 31 points and the Hurricanes had no answer for him. The Hurricanes still led the Tar Heels 77-74 with 21 seconds left in the game.

So in the huddle, Kenny Williams mentioned to head coach Roy Williams that if Maye set the ball screen for White, Maye might be open for a 3-pointer.

Roy Williams drew up the play for Maye to take the final shot.

“It was a dribble-spin out,” Roy Williams said.

In order for the play to work, White would have to read the two defenders guarding him and Maye, as he came off the screen.

“If he was going to come with me, then Luke was definitely going to be wide open,” White said. “If not, I was going to have to make a play.”

Coming out of the timeout, White, a freshman guard, said he was nervous. He knew they likely only had one chance to tie the game. There would be no mulligans.

But the Tar Heels didn’t need one.

Maye set the screen for White, who saw that Miami guard Anthony Lawrence II, who was initially guarding Maye, had stepped out to guard him. And so did Lykes, whom Maye had screened. Because Lykes and Lawrence were guarding White, that left Maye wide open as he popped out to the 3-point line, just as Kenny Williams had predicted.

North Carolina’s Luke Maye (32) launches a three-point shot over Chris Lykes (0) with 12 seconds to play to tie the score 77-77 and force overtime on Saturday, February 9, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett

White passed to Maye, who shot it, tying the game with 10 seconds left. Lykes threw his hands in the air in frustration.

“They miscommunicated, left one of the best shooters in the country open, and he knocked it down,” Kenny Williams said. “And I wasn’t surprised at all to see Luke make that shot. He does what he does. He is a big-time player and he always comes through when we need him the most.”

Lykes missed a final shot and the eighth-ranked Tar Heels defeated the Hurricanes in overtime 88-85.

Maye’s 3-pointer gave the Tar Heels’ their seventh straight win. The Tar Heels (19-4, 9-1 ACC) play No. 3 Virginia on Monday. Earlier in the day, the NCAA Selection Committee revealed UNC as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. That is subject to change depending on how the rest of the season goes.

The Tar Heels would have had trouble holding that spot had they lost to the Hurricanes (10-13, 2-9) at home.

The Tar Heels will remain tied atop the ACC standings with a 9-1 start in ACC play, their best start in conference play in the Roy Williams era.

The game was back and forth. The Hurricanes outrebounded the Tar Heels 39-32, only the third time the Tar Heels have been outrebounded in a game. The other two times — against Kentucky on Dec. 22 and Louisville on Jan. 12 — resulted in losses. This time, the Tar Heels managed to find a way to overcome it.

When they found themselves down late in the game, the Tar Heels maintained their composure and hit tough shots. Especially White, who was 7 of 10 from behind the 3-point line, and 11 of 16 from the floor overall. The only problem was that the Hurricanes almost always had an answer.

Maye, who finished the game with 20 points and six rebounds, said the team had worked on last-second shots in Friday’s practice.

“I just wanted to do it like I do in practice,” Maye said. “That’s how I’ve always been taught. Coach had confidence in me and I had confidence in myself. My teammates got me the right spot and Coby made a great pass.”

Maye is no stranger to big shots. As a sophomore, he hit a game-winning jump shot in the Elite 8 against Kentucky in 2017. It was one of the biggest shots in program history. The Tar Heels advanced to the Final Four, and eventually won the national championship.

“I’ve hit that shot many of times and I just think it’s something that I’m confident in doing,” Maye said after the game.

The game on Saturday was the Tar Heels’ first this season that had come down to the wire. It could have easily gone in Miami’s favor. But Maye was confident he’d hit the shot.

He knew he’d be open.

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Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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