Luke Maye’s numbers are down, but there’s no reason for UNC to panic

North Carolinas Luke Maye (32) drives against Tulanes Blake Paul (23) during the second half on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
North Carolinas Luke Maye (32) drives against Tulanes Blake Paul (23) during the second half on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. rwillett@newsobserver.com

There’s nothing wrong with Luke Maye’s numbers from the past three games.

The North Carolina junior forward averaged a double-double in the Tar Heels’ final three-game stretch (Tennessee-Wofford-Ohio State) before ACC play.

It’s just that Maye’s recent numbers aren’t as good as his numbers from the first 10 games of the season. That’s not exactly a cause for concern, with No. 13 UNC about to open conference play with Wake Forest on Saturday at the Smith Center (noon, ESPN2).

“His numbers were so off the charts, it’s hard to expect anyone to maintain that kind of thing,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.

The 6-8, 240-pound forward from Huntersville started the season on a torrid scoring and shooting pace with 19.9 points per game and a 57.1 field-goal percentage in the first 10 games.

Maye has come back to the statistical mean with 13.6 points and 36.8 field-goal percentage in the past three games.

The potential issue for UNC (11-2) is the recent caliber of competition will be more in line with what Maye will face regularly in the ACC.

Given UNC’s youth in the frontcourt, it needs Maye to be a reliable scorer and rebounder. The latter hasn’t been an issue at all. He had eight rebounds against Tennessee, 14 against Wofford and 10 against Ohio State. For the season, he averages 10.5 rebounds per game, which ranks second in the ACC.

“I really take pride in rebounding,” Maye said. “I feel like rebounding is very important and coach preaches rebounding a lot.”

But Maye’s shooting has slipped recently, particularly in the first half. He has started 4 of 19 (21.1 percent) in the past three games and finished a combined 14 of 38 (36.8 percent).

Maye said he has to have more of a “ready mindset” from the beginning of each game but he wasn’t concerned about his shooting numbers.

“Shooting, I mean, some games you’re going to shoot really well and (some games) you’re not going to shoot your best,” Maye said. “I feel like I’m going to continue to shoot the shots when I’m open.”

Part of Maye’s scoring dip can also be attributed to teams paying more attention to him. The defining moment of his sophomore season was the game-winning shot against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, but he only averaged 5.5 points last year in a reserve role.

Without Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks or Tony Bradley up front, Maye has become the focal point of UNC’s interior scoring. Opponents have figured that out and ACC teams will, too.

“Once you get in the league, they do know more about you,” Williams said. “They know all your warts. It will be harder when the defense knows as much.”

Williams has confidence Maye will be able to adjust and be productive in league play. Maye also needs some help.

“Then it’s up to us to realize, OK, we need to do a better job screening for him to see if we can get him a little more open,” Williams said.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

Wake Forest at No. 13 UNC

When: Saturday, noon

Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill

TV/radio: ESPN2, 106.1-WTKK

Probable starters

Wake Forest (7-5)

G Mitchell Wilbekin 9.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg

G Bryant Crawford 15.3 ppg, 4.6 apg

G Chaundee Brown 7.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg

F Terrence Thompson 4.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg

F Doral Moore 10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg

UNC (11-2)

G Joel Berry 17.3 ppg, 3.0 apg

G Kenny Williams 12.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg

G Theo Pinson 9.4 ppg, 4.4 apg

F Luke Maye 18.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg

F Garrison Brooks 6.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg

Storyline: UNC’s best lineup, since Cam Johnson returned from a knee injury, has been a “small ball” lineup with Theo Pinson and Luke Maye at the forward spots. UNC coach Roy Williams prefers to use two traditional “bigs” instead of one. Williams, cognizant that Wake starts a behemoth in the middle in Doral Moore (7-1, 280 pounds), said you have to give something up when you go with a smaller lineup. “Every decision you make has ripple effects. It might help you in one situation and it might hurt you in another,” Williams said.