North Carolina forward Luke Maye (32) cuts down the net after North Carolina beat Kentucky in the South Regional final Sunday in Memphis, Tenn. Maye shot the winning basket that gave North Carolina a 75-73 win. AP
By Ross Martin
Special to the Times
It is one of the biggest shots in NCAA Tournament and North Carolina basketball history. After Kentucky’s Malik Monk tied Sunday’s South Regional final at 73-73, Theo Pinson got the ball with 7.2 seconds remaining. He took it the length of the floor, and dished it to an open Luke Maye who coolly nailed a 20-foot jumper to give North Carolina the win and a second-straight trip to the Final Four.
The crowd and Carolina fans everywhere erupted. Instead of heading to overtime and wondering what happened to the seven-point lead they had with less than a minute to play, Tar Heels won 75-73 and were heading to Phoenix, they will face Oregon in the national semifinals..
With the ball and seven seconds remaining, head coach Roy Williams didn’t call a timeout, preferring to attack a defense that was not set. That has always been his protocol and it paid off.
“We know Coach is not going to call a timeout in that situation. He is going to let us make a play,” Pinson said.
The man behind the pass described the final seconds.
“I got the ball,” Pinson said in the locker room after the win. “I wanted to just attack. I just wanted to get downhill. They didn’t get back as fast as I thought they would. So I was like, ‘Let me keep putting pressure on the defense.’ They were staying with Joel (Berry) and Justin (Jackson) at halfcourt, so I was like ‘I am going to have to make a play.’ So I attacked the basket ‑ it was either (Derek) Willis is going to cut me off or I was going to make a layup. Once he stepped in I just tried to shed him off and give Luke a good look by himself.
“He made a big time shot.”
Big indeed. One of the top two or three shots in Carolina basketball history and the first to win an NCAA Tournament game in the final 10 seconds since Rick Fox’s short jumper beat Oklahoma at the buzzer 1990. Like that one, Maye’s shot will be remember forever.
Maye, a sophomore forward from Huntersville, became an unlikely hero. He choose to walk on at UNC despite scholarship offers from Clemson, Virginia, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and many others. Luckily a scholarship opened up for Maye in his first year. This season Maye has been a reserve forward, averaging 14.4 minutes per game, 5.8 points, and 4.1 rebounds. On Friday night against Butler, Maye had 16 points and 12 rebonds, both career highs and his first double-double. On Sunday against Kentucky he had 17 points.
None were more important than the final two.
Maye described the final play and game-winning shot:
“Theo just drove down the court and kind of was penetrating towards the basket and kind of picked my man a little bit. And I just kind of stepped back and he gave me the ball, and I just shot it, and luckily it went in. It was a great feeling.
“(The shot) looked great going up. I thought it might be a little long. But luckily it hit back rim and fell in.”
Maye was named the South Regional Most Outstanding Player for his performance over the weekend in Memphis
20TH FINAL FOUR
Maye’s shot sent North Carolina to the Final Four where they will face Oregon, the No. 3 seed from the Midwest Regional. The Ducks beat top-seeded Kansas 74-60 on Saturday night to advance to the Final Four.
This will be back-to-back Final Fours for the Tar Heels and the 20th in program history.
UNC will face Oregon on Saturday, April 1 is Glendale, Ariz. The game will tip at approximately 8:48 p.m. EDT.
The storylines leading into the Final Four for North Carolina will revolve around redemption. Of course, last year UNC lost in the national championship game on a last-second 3-pointer by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins.
“My ultimate goal is not done and I know it’s the same for this team,” Berry said in the locker room after the game. “I am going to be happy tonight and enjoy it tonight, but I am looking forward to Saturday.”
“Having another shot at it, that’s rare,” Jackson said.
It is certainly unfinished business for these Tar Heels. Many of the same players were on the court last year when Villanova’s dagger crushed their dreams.
UNC point guard Joel Berry went down at the 15:02 mark in the second half Sunday after spraining his left ankle. He walked slowly off the court and into the locker room with the team trainer. He would return to the game at the 11:15 mark.
Berry finished with 11 points, four rebounds, and three assists in 33 minutes. He was visibly emotional in the locker room after the game, from the win and the pain.
“It was a big gut-check,” Berry said on the court after the game. “I rolled my ankle before and I could come back from it, but as the game just went on and on my ankle was just throbbing. I tried to take some medicine. It didn’t work. I just tried to fight through it. It didn’t want to get knocked out this game - I mean this is a game to get to the Final Four. I have all week to rest.”
Williams revealed that Berry also resprained his right ankle during Saturday’s practice.
Berry was in a lot pain in the locker room. “It is not feeling too good right now,” he said. “I am in a lot in pain. That is why I am trying to give y’all some short answers so I can get some treatment. It feels alright, but I am in a lot of pain.”
Williams called Berry a ‘”tough little nut” after the game.
FOOTBALL PICKS UP 2 TRANSFERS
Lost amid the NCAA Tournament run is the Carolina football team locking in graduate transfers. Over the weekend the Tar Heels got two commitments.
Offensive guard Khaliel Rodgers will transfer from Southern Cal and quarterback Brandon Harris will come over from LSU. Once each graduates they will have one year of eligibility at North Carolina. Both could start for the Heels in 2017.
Rodgers and Harris will be joined by Auburn running back grad transfer Stanton Truitt (who is already on campus and working with the team) and Florida grad transfer center Cameron Dillard, who started 20 games for the Gators in the ACC.
UNC’s offense will look a lot different in 2017. The team lost three offensive line starters, the starting quarterback, both running backs, and three starting wide receivers to graduation or the NFL draft. These grad transfers will look to make an immediate impact.
Ross Martin covers North Carolina basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com and CBS Sports. Check out more of his work at northcarolina.247sports.com.