- Behind seniors Luke Maye and Cam Johnson, North Carolina reversed the script of the Tar Heels' historic loss to Louisville back in January.
On Jan. 12, North Carolina suffered its worst home loss in Roy Williams's 16 seasons patrolling the sideline at the Dean Smith Center. The Tar Heels shot 13.1% from three-point range, were outrebounded by the widest margin they'd been all season and got a modest 19 points from the senior duo of Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson as Louisville cruised to an 83–62 blowout that kickstarted a six-game winning streak for the Cardinals and left UNC fans wondering if they had overestimated this team's ceiling in a historically deep ACC.
Saturday was more like it. The Tar Heels created separation late in a back-and-forth first half and cruised home for a 79–69 win that dropped Louisville from the ranks of the one-loss teams in ACC play and suggested that UNC may be closer to the league's top tier than it has let on at times this season.
Maye has dropped from the National Player of the Year discussion that he was mentioned within at the start of the season, but he shined in the leading role UNC needed him to fill on an off shooting night for the Tar Heels' backcourt, delivering a game-high 20 points, 11 rebounds and a handful of tone-setting hustle plays. Johnson, the Tar Heels' leading scorer on the year, drilled back-to-back threes to power a 24–11 run over the final 9:55 of the first half that took the air out of the KFC Yum! Center.
After three different Cardinals scored exactly 17 points at the Dean Dome in January, Louisville needed a barrage of second-half threes to pull the lead back to respectability, with the Tar Heels dictating the course of play inside. UNC won the rebound battle 49–32 and held backup center Steven Enoch, the most surprising of last month's 17-point scorers, without a point. After going 3-of-14 from the field in the teams' first meeting and scoring just four points in Tuesday's win over Georgia Tech, Maye got a quick eight points and held his own in physical battles with Louisville's big men long enough for underclassman forwards Garrison Brooks and Nassir Little to work their way into the flow of the game.
North Carolina welcomes NC State and Virginia to Chapel Hill over the next two weeks before its first meeting of the season with Duke on Feb. 20 in Durham, a reminder that it's still too early to tell whether the Tar Heels' place in the top 10 is a true measure of their talent or a byproduct of the inconsistent play of this season's second tier. A sweep at the hands of a Louisville team that is ahead of schedule in year one under Chris Mack would have been a tough thing to explain away, but by following Williams's time-tested formula, the Tar Heels are on a roll heading into their biggest tests of the stretch run.