North Carolina Coach Roy Williams had been impressed with how Luke Maye played during the Tar Heels’ recent preseason outings.
The 6-foot-8 junior forward then carried that good work over into the team’s season opener Friday night.
Maye finished with a career-high 26 points and 10 rebounds as No. 9 North Carolina pulled away after a slow start and defeated Northern Iowa, 86-69, in the season opener for both schools in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” Maye said. “I want to put a whole season together. I have a lot to continue to work on.”
Maye helped the defending national champions take command in the second half after they led 45-31 at halftime.
Maye made 11 of 16 shots from the field. In fact, the Tar Heels shot well all night long, making 50 percent.
They dominated the smaller Northern Iowa team in the paint, scoring 36 points in the lane.
Northern Iowa, which now has lost in North Carolina for the past two seasons, was led by sophomore guard Spencer Haldeman’s 15 points. Sophomore guard Isaiah Brown chipped in 13.
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This game stayed close in the early minutes as North Carolina held a 22-18 lead before going on a 13-2 run en route to the 14-point halftime lead.
“There were some positives in the first 15 minutes,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson told the school’s radio broadcast. “There were some things that we worked on a lot that we didn’t take care of which would have put us in a nice position going into the half.”
Brown agreed with his coach, saying the Panthers were competitive.
“I felt like we played pretty good (early),” Brown said. “The energy was up, the communication was (good). I think we played a very good first half.
“We competed very hard, and we were in the game.”