UNC freshman Kennedy Meeks responds from worst game with best

acarter@newsobserver.comNovember 24, 2013 

— After he played just five minutes and scored a single point during North Carolina’s victory against Richmond on Saturday, Kennedy Meeks didn’t much feel like talking to anybody.

He had played just five minutes and scored but a single point.

“I wanted to go to my room,” Meeks said on Sunday after the Tar Heels’ 93-84 victory against No. 3 Louisville in the Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-Off.

Instead of allowing Meeks to sulk away the night, though, his teammates encouraged him. And Roy Williams, the UNC coach, met with him twice.

Once on Saturday night, and then again on Sunday. Williams said on Sunday that Meeks “was one of the worst players on the planet on Saturday.” And on Sunday, against Louisville?

“He was unbelievable,” Williams said. “And I told him last night … you just weren’t ready to play. You didn’t have the intensity. You’ve got to be into it. (Against Louisville), this is big-time college basketball.”

Meeks on Sunday finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in 24 minutes. He excelled in the Tar Heels’ half-court offense, and his long outlet passes helped UNC beat Louisville’s press.

“We watched some clips from I think it was (2008) when Louisville played Carolina and Wayne Ellington and those guys, and Ty (Lawson), were there, in the regional final,” Marcus Paige, the sophomore guard, said. “ … And we saw how they beat them over the top a couple of times , and that allowed their pressure to back off a little bit.”

UNC wanted to do the same on Sunday and it did – in large part thanks to Meeks, a former standout at West Charlotte High. Williams has already described the 6-foot-9, 285-pound Meeks as the best passing big man he’s ever coached.

Meeks shrugged and smiled on Sunday when asked about his passing ability. He said it comes naturally.

“I don’t know where I got that from,” he said. “Just a reaction.”

ZONE DEFENSE HELPS UNC

Williams isn’t known for employing a zone defense, but the Tar Heels used a 2-3 zone with success in the second half on Sunday. UNC, Williams said, has already practiced the zone more this season than it has over the course of others.

A zone defense mitigates some of the Tar Heels’ defensive shortcomings given the mix-and-match lineups they’re forced to employ without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald.

“The zone was the best for us in the second half today,” said Williams, who added that he used to it to help the Tar Heels through their foul trouble.

Three-fifths of UNC’s starting lineup – Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto – finished the game with four fouls. Louisville shot just 37.1 percent in the second half, but at times successfully penetrated.

“Going to the zone helped us a little bit, and we’ve just got to do a little better job guarding the driver,” Williams said.

ETC. …

UNC outscored Louisville in the paint 28-14. … With the Tar Heels in foul trouble, reserve forward Jackson Simmons provided some valuable minutes in the second half. He finished with four points in five minutes. … The Cardinals attempted 31 3-pointers, but UNC attempted only six. Paige made three of his five 3-point attempts, and he made all 11 of his free-throw attempts.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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