Sometimes in sports, when the conventional wisdom believes one thing will occur the complete opposite happens. That was the case as UNC struggled mightily on offense before pulling away for a 67-55 win over NC State.
Joel Berry's three point to open the game certainly made it appear UNC would dominate the action. That ended fairly quickly. Brice Johnson committed an early foul going over the back and NC State went right at him on the defensive end. Abduk-Malik Abu scored NC State's first six points with Johnson unable to be aggressive thanks to the quick foul. The Wolfpack also controlled rebounding getting out to a 10-3 edge on the boards and at one point in the half pulling down nearly 90% of its own misses. The result was the Wolfpack building a 21-16 lead with 9:13 left in the half.
The Tar Heels got a much needed boost from Nate Britt off the bench. Britt hit a three to cut the lead to two and on the next possession stripped the ball from Caleb Martin and left it for Johnson who tied the game with a dunk. Over the final 7:19 it was an even game with neither team doing much to acquit themselves on the offensive end. Kennedy Meeks layup with 22 seconds tied the game at 29-29. UNC used a run and jump trap to force the ball out of Cat Barber's hands and the game went to halftime tied.
In the second half Kennedy Meeks took over.
NCSU's big men ran into some early foul trouble as did Johnson and Hicks. That left Meeks as the best interior scoring option on the floor for the Tar Heels. He did not disappoint scoring on post moves and putbacks to give the Tar Heels some breathing room as the second half wore on. Joel Berry hit two threes early in the half but outside of those two, UNC's best players struggled offensively. Johnson was saddled with foul trouble and ineffective. Marcus Paige's poor shooting carried over from last Saturday(2-19 over two games) and Justin Jackson missed his first six shots. Jackson finally got on the board with a layup then hit a three with 6:59 left to give UNC its largest lead at 12.
The story of the game was Meeks who continued to get anything he wanted on the offensive end and had a solid defensive game as well. Meeks recorded three blocks and one steal but was disruptive on two other possessions diving to the floor to force a turnover. Overall, UNC put in a solid effort defensively especially on Wolfpack leading scorer Cat Barber. After a nine point first half on 4-8 shooting, UNC shut the Pack's top offensive option down. Barber went 0-3 in the second half and committed three turnovers bringing his game total to five. He also did not attempt a free throw on the day.
Meeks led UNC with 23 points and six rebounds in his return to the starting lineup. Joel Berry had 14 points and four assists while Isaiah Hicks 10 points rounded out the double figure scoring for the Tar Heels. UNC's depth was on full display with the Tar Heels getting just 15 points from the trio of Paige, Jackson and Johnson but still able to grind out a 12 point win against a rival in desperate need of an ACC win.