LAHAINA >> North Carolina has won the Maui Invitational three times, championships that were a springboard to two national titles and a trip to the Final Four.
Keep playing like this and the Tar Heels could be looking at a repeat performance.
Joel Berry III scored 24 points, Justin Jackson added 22 and No. 4 North Carolina steamrolled its way into the Maui Invitational championship game with a 107-75 victory over Oklahoma State tonight.
“We played a level much higher than at any other time this year,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said.
The Tar Heels were warned about Oklahoma State’s pressing defense, one that effectively disrupted the Cowboys’ four previous opponents.
But North Carolina (6-0) dominated the Cowboys from the start, building a 12-point lead in the opening 4 1/2 minutes. The Tar Heels kept their foot down, shooting 57 percent and going 8 of 17 from 3-point range while smothering Oklahoma State at the other end.
Next up is No. 16 Wisconsin in Wednesday’s championship game for a chance at their fourth Maui title.
“At pregame meal, they weren’t trying to scare us, just prepare us for what was to come,” said Berry, who had five rebounds, four assists and three steals. “We came out and hit them first.”
The Cowboys (4-1) had no answer.
Oklahoma State’s press was picked apart by the long, athletic Tar Heels, and the Cowboys couldn’t stop them in the half court, either.
Jawun Evans had 30 points on 13-of-25 shooting, but got little help from his Oklahoma State teammates on the offensive end. The Cowboys shot 36 percent and were 6 of 22 from 3-point range.
“Boy, did they punch us in the mouth early and it was an uphill battle from there,” coach Brad Underwood said. “They are a very, very good basketball team and if we play another team that good, I hope that it’s deep in March and we’ve had time to grow.”
North Carolina needed a little warmup time against Chaminade in the opening round before dominating the Silverswords inside for a 104-61 win.
The Tar Heels jumped on the Cowboys from the opening tip, scoring inside and out. North Carolina hit seven of its first 13 shots to open with a 16-4 run and kept pouring ‘em in.
The Tar Heels hit 18 of 32 shots, going 4 of 7 on 3s, and led 51-38 at halftime.
Oklahoma State’s first-half offense was all Evans. He had 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting while the rest of the Cowboys were 4 of 21.
North Carolina hit a couple of quick baskets to open the second half, prompting Underwood to call a timeout.
It did little good.
The Tar Heels continued to pour it on, stretching the lead to 67-42 in the opening 4 minutes and cruising from there.
“They jumped on us right at the start of the second half and the game pretty much was never in doubt,” Underwood said.