Inside Carolina/Jim Hawkins

Luke Maye Provides Key Spark for UNC

The sophomore forward posted his first career double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds in Friday's Sweet 16 win over Butler.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Luke Maye doesn’t want you to know that he loves ketchup.

He would rather you focus on the fact that North Carolina won its third NCAA Tournament game to advance to the Elite Eight. The sophomore forward, who was an unheralded recruit by UNC standards coming out of high school, is always willing to talk about his team, but seems unwillingly at times to talk about his own play, when such a moment arises.

Another such moment occurred when the Tar Heels dismissed Butler, 92-80, at FedEx Forum on Friday. The Bulldogs likely thought they were catching a break when Isaiah Hicks left the game with two fouls and Maye checked in with 13:47 on the first half clock. Instead, Maye drained the first of his trio of 3-pointers four possessions later and then knocked down another one to give UNC a 30-14 lead with 9:51 left before halftime.

Maye had tallied a career-high 14 points and nine rebounds by intermission and finished the best game of his Tar Heel career with his first double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds), prompting Theo Pinson to announce in the postgame locker room: “That’s the K-Love I know right there!”

None of his teammates were surprised by his hot hand. In fact, some were wondering when his lethal practice sessions would transition to live game action.

“He’s been torching us in practice all year,” Pinson said. “It’s about time he started showing it.”

Maye’s exploits earned him a trip to the media dais for UNC’s postgame press conference and made him a hot commodity upon his return to a packed locker room. It was there at his corner locker that Maye put on another solid performance, taking questions about his play and turning them into commentary about his team.

Take this response, for example: “It’s a great feeling. I just want to keep playing well and really continue to help my team win because that’s the most important thing. We’re in the Elite Eight now and all of the teams are really good. We’re going to have to really crack down on the mistakes we make and hopefully we’ll continue to play next week.”

That’s a smooth segue for a kid 17 days past his 20th birthday. His media front is arguably more polished than his game, although both have made incredible strides this season. If only his teammates weren’t around to bring up his passion for ketchup.

As the allotted 30-minute media window in the locker room slowly ticked to zero, Kennedy Meeks and Brandon Robinson planted a question to a reporter about their teammate's condiment preference.

“Yeah, I do put a lot of ketchup on things,” Maye said, his smile turning into laughter. “Some things they don’t really accept.”

When Meeks implored Maye to tell the lingering reporters what he likes to put ketchup on, the Charlotte, N.C. product declined, saying, “Nah, that’s okay, nobody needs to know that.”

That response, of course, prompted his teammates to reel off a string of food options, such as eggs, steak, pizza and fruit; some in jest, some not. It made for a jovial locker room scene, offering a rare glimpse into Maye’s personality. That tends to happen when a player is deserving of the spotlight.

For a player that was a blip on the recruiting radar, one who initially agreed to walk on for his freshman year at UNC, Maye has evolved into a valued post option for a team in the hunt for a national championship.

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