North Carolina received its first real test of the season here on Wednesday night, when Bucknell cut a 16-point deficit to one with about 12 ½ minutes remaining. The Smith Center became quiet then, many watching nervously.
The Tar Heels quickly extended their lead to six after a Luke Maye 3-pointer, though, and the Bison never again cut its deficit to fewer than four. Another Maye 3, this one with less than 4 ½ minutes remaining, gave the Tar Heels a nine-point lead, and helped UNC prevail with an 93-81 victory.
It was a hard-earned victory in the kind of game that offered a good replication a first-round NCAA tournament game. Bucknell represented the Patriot League in the tournament a season ago and entered this season as the favorite to repeat as its conference champion.
After the slow start, it showed why on Wednesday night. The Bison weren't fazed in the moment.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
UNC, meanwhile, welcomed Joel Berry's return after he missed the Tar Heels' season-opener while recovering from a broken bone in his hand. Berry made his first shot, a 3-pointer, but missed his next 10 from the field. He finished with seven points.
Maye, the junior forward who scored 26 points during UNC's season-opening victory against Northern Iowa, again led the Tar Heels in scoring on Wednesday. He finished with 20 points – one of five UNC players in double figures.
Theo Pinson finished with 19 points and Sterling Manley, the freshman forward, with 16 points and 13 rebounds. He played 17 minutes, and needed only 13 to secure his first collegiate double-double.
The victory was UNC coach Roy Williams’ 400th since returning in 2003 to become the Tar Heels’ head coach. The school recognized the milestone during a short ceremony after the game ended.