Chestnut Hill, MA – The University of North Carolina entered the match-up with Boston College as the No. 3-ranked team in the nation. They provided a terrific performance that proved their high ranking. After a relatively tight start, UNC’s defense took control of the game, while seniors Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson did damage offensively en route to a 23-point halftime lead. In the second half, big plays by Johnson and Coby White helped the Tar Heels hold off multiple Eagle rally efforts. Maye led the way with 17 points and 20 rebounds, with Johnson adding 22 points and 12 rebounds as the Tar Heels prevailed 79-66 . Ky Bowman and Nik Popovic scored 23 and 20 points, respectively, for the hosts. With the win, the Tar Heels improve 25-5 overall and an ACC best 15-2 in conference games. The Eagles fall to 14-15 (5-12) with the loss.
Maye’s outstanding performance goes way beyond the box score. His ability to play in the low post and run the offense from the perimeter kept the Boston College defense off balance all night. In the low post, he showed great footwork and with a series of up-fakes got himself easy looks. He ran the floor hard and got rewarded at the rim with easy layups. His playmaking was outstanding all night and he had some brilliant passes that left his teammates with terrific open looks on both sides of the three-point line, for a total of five assists. He hustled all night long, from simple box outs to leaping for the boards and creating extra possessions. Defensively, he did a great job shutting down driving lanes. The Boston College guards really struggled to get into the lane when he was on the floor. The Eagles guards combined for just one make inside the arc.
Johnson had a terrific night as well. The forward came out with aggressive shot selection within the offense and made some key shots that helped the Tar Heels hold on to an early lead. That lead eventually extended to the halftime margin helped by Johnson’s shooting. He displayed a variety of ways to get to his quick release. He hit a spot up three while drawing a foul then hit another pull-up with a defender draped all over him. Finally he hit another triple off a sideways dribble. He also got to the rim with ease. He drove hard, cut hard, and hustled for offensive rebounds to create for himself easy scoring opportunities. His offensive patience was showcased as well as he also added five assists. He had an opportunity to take some shots off the dribble but instead preferred to give the ball to his teammates in better positions to score. On the boards he did a nice job boxing out and attacking the glass with his impressive leaping ability. He was very active on defense and was altering shots and coming up with deflections.
The Eagles’ star, Bowman, had a terrific offensive night shooting from three-point range, especially early on. His confidence in that shot never wavered. He was aggressive in taking that shot as he made seven out of 16 attempts. He made a catch-and-shoot triple, another one while stopping on dime in transition, and one more on a step back. He made four pull-up trifectas as well. His lack of aggressiveness in going to the rim set the tone for his fellow guards. It was an underwhelming night in terms of attacking the rim for a player who averaged almost five free throw attempts coming into the game. On the defensive end of the floor, he was very aggressive and consistently in the passing lanes while doing an excellent job denying Coby White from getting going offensively and freely catching the ball to make a play. He also did a great job attacking the glass and creating opportunities to run with immediate push of the ball up the floor.
Junior Nik Popovic added a 20 point night for the Eagles. Following a relatively slow first half (2 points), he really got things going in the second half and his engagement from the get-go was impressive. Contrary to his first half, he was demanding the ball in the low post and aggressively attacking Tar Heel defenders. He scored once from the block and then hit a baseline jumper to jumpstart an Eagles rally effort. Later in the half, he went right at UNC’s Garrison Brooks with a series of up-fakes that ended with him finishing through contact on a tough layup. He even showed a nice floater with both hands inside the paint and a baby hook. He also drove hard from the perimeter to get a score. His effort on the glass was good but he could have done a better job giving Maye and Johnson a fight there. There were times when he just didn’t want to go get the rebound, contrary to other performances this season. Defensively, he struggled with the quickness and explosiveness of UNC’s forwards and seemed to get really frustrated by that effort. To his credit, it was notable that he was alert and had a sense of urgency to the situation, which really led him to play with that second half edge in which he scored 18 of his points.
Next up: The Tar Heels will return to Chapel Hill to host No. 4-rated Duke (26-4, 14-3) in their final regular season game. The Eagles of Boston College will host North Carolina State (20-9, 8-8) in their regular season finale.