National championships are won in March -- not in Maui -- but No. 4 North Carolina made an early statement with a 71-56 victory over No. 16 Wisconsin in the championship game of the Maui Invitational on Wednesday night at the Lahaina Civic Center.
Tournament MVP Joel Berry II scored 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting for North Carolina (6-0). All-Tournament selection Kennedy Meeks recorded a double-double, posting 15 points and 16 rebounds.
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said Berry was "just sensational" and Meeks "may have played the best ballgame since he's been at North Carolina."
Isaiah Hicks added 14 points and five rebounds for North Carolina, which opened up a nine-point lead at the break and pulled away in the second half. Justin Jackson had 12 points.
Vitto Brown scored 15 points for Wisconsin (4-2). Ethan Happ had 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Wisconsin scoring leader Bronson Koenig struggled. He came in averaging 17 points per game. He was held to two points on 1-of-13 shooting.
"Obviously, Roy's got a heck of a team," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. "They did the things they needed to do, hit shots when they needed to hit shots, and were able to get enough separation."
The game was played before a capacity crowd in a 2,400-seat arena with spectators packed into standing-room only areas in all corners of the building. It started slowly with a grinding pace dictated by the Badgers, who held the Tar Heels under 100 points for the first time in the tournament.
Wisconsin missed its first 11 shots and did not score for more than seven minutes. North Carolina, which went into the contest averaging nearly 97 points per game, could have blown it open early, but that didn't happen.
The Tar Heels were clinging to an 11-8 lead after Brown made a 3-pointer midway through the first half. The Badgers got within three on a three-point play by Happ with 5:45 remaining. The Tar Heels created some separation in the final minutes of the first half, closing with a modest 12-6 run to carry a 29-20 advantage into the break.
"Early in the game, it was both teams trying really, really hard, and nobody could put the ball in the basket," Williams said. "For us, Joel was our offense for the first six or eight minutes, the only offense that we had."
The Badgers got within six early in the second period, but the Tar Heels responded with a 16-3 run to take a 49-30 lead on a layup by Jackson midway through the half. They led by as many as 25 points late.
North Carolina shot 49.1 percent and amassed a 38-26 rebounding advantage. Wisconsin shot 38.2 percent.
North Carolina improved to 18-3 all-time in the Maui Invitational. The Tar Heels won the tournament for the fourth time, adding to their titles from 1999, 2004 and 2008. Berry became the fourth North Carolina player to claim MVP honors, joining Joseph Forte, Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson.
"We're very happy to win the Maui Invitational," Williams said. "It's a tournament that I love. I always tell them I don't leave the island until they let me sign a contract to come back in four years."
NOTES: North Carolina leads the series with Wisconsin 3-1. The Tar Heels won 88-82 in the 2005 NCAA Tournament and 60-57 in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game in 2011. The Badgers prevailed 79-72 in a Sweet 16 game in 2015. ... Going into the game, Wisconsin's largest deficit in the tournament was two points. North Carolina never trailed. ... North Carolina's Theo Pinson (foot) and Luke Maye (ankle) are still out with injuries. Maye could return in the next week or two.