It was one of those sluggish starts that, in usual times, might have had North Carolina players looking around at each other, wondering when Marcus Paige, the senior point guard, would ignite something with a timely 3-pointer, or maybe a baseline floater.
But Paige was on the bench, his right hand wrapped in a bandage, and the Tar Heels were left to fend for themselves. Eventually they did in a 91-67 victory against Temple in the Veterans Classic at Alumni Hall, on the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Paige is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season while recovering from a broken hand. And UNC will miss him – that much was clear early Friday night. Eventually, though, UNC’s talent and skill proved too much.
As did junior forward Kennedy Meeks, who had one of his best overall games, finishing with 25 points, a career high, and 11 rebounds.
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Approaching halftime UNC finally created some separation and built a six-point lead. Then Temple came back and tied the game at 34. And then the turning point: UNC closed the first half on a 13-2 run that gave the Tar Heels a 47-36 halftime lead.
Meeks helped ignite that run with a long jump shot and then a blocked shot that led to a Joel Berry 3-pointer. After halftime, Temple never seriously challenged UNC’s lead.
Three who mattered
Kennedy Meeks: Meeks finished last season in a slump, but he started this one with one of his better all around games – 25 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Theo Pinson: He showed no signs of being slowed by a foot injury that required surgery last spring, and finished with seven points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes.
Joel Berry: He made his first college start and ran the UNC offense in place of the injured Marcus Paige. Berry finished with 14 points, four assists and two steals.
Three key numbers
42 UNC’s points in the paint. The Tar Heels had a significant talent advantage there and they exploited it, outscoring Temple 42-14.
7 3-pointers made by the Tar Heels. And that was with their best shooter, Paige, on the bench and unable to play.
20 UNC’s second-chance points. The Tar Heels outscored Temple 20-5 there, and they often capitalized on their 15 offensive rebounds.