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UNC vs Louisville: Three things we learned

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Free throws are important. UNC is tough. Kennedy Meeks is good.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Exhale. Breathe. Relax.

UNC walked off the court with another home victory. Roy beat Rick for the sixth time in nine tries. Justin Jackson continues to make a compelling argument for ACC POY and perhaps an All-American selection.

What else did we learn? Glad you asked.

Nothing is Free

If you happened to catch our “Three Things to Watch”, you entered last night with the anticipation that free throws could be the biggest deciding factor in the game. That expectation turned into reality.

UNC shot 21-29 from the foul line. Louisville was an oh-so-close 4-13.

That is a 17-point differential at the foul line.

The final margin of victory was 11.

More importantly, don’t go blaming (or crediting) the officials. The final foul count was 21 fouls called on the Cardinals compared to 16 for the Heels. Those five extra fouls on the Cards are not enough to compensate for 16 additional free throw attempts by UNC.

Instead UNC deserves credit for continuing to attack the rim and not settling for poor jump shots or three-point attempts. Despite being outscored in the paint 40-26 - a rarity for UNC this season - the Heels remained undeterred. Five different players attempted four or more free throws, so they didn’t just rely on a specific mismatch.

It was a total team effort to maintain an aggressiveness that, to be honest, has been missing at key moments during the season.

Yeah, but are they “tough”

North Carolina continues to find new ways to win. Louisville had the genetic makeup to be UNC’s worst nightmare. Touting the athleticism of this season’s Florida State while playing with the defensive tenacity of a Tony Bennett-led UVA squad, this game was always going to be a battle.

For 30 minutes that’s exactly what it was. However, for every hook or jab the Cards threw at Joel Berry and company, the Heels countered with a resounding uppercut.

The opening six minutes may have been the ugliest basketball UNC has played all year. That included five early turnovers, and some abysmal shooting to match. Yet, when the clock struck 00:00, UNC was only credited with 12 giveaways. Louisville, who entered the game with the fewest turnovers in ACC play, coughed it up 16 times. (That does not count any traveling violations that were not called.)

Frustrated at getting dominated in the paint? No worries. In addition to shooting 72% from the line, UNC corralled 46 rebounds, including 16 on the offensive end.

Isaiah Hicks got in foul trouble again? Cool. Kennedy Meeks will handle his business with a double-double.

I’m sure nobody enjoyed watching the the Tar Heels shoot 3-18 to open the game. Don’t be concerned. They fixed that, and finished by hitting 20 of their final 44 attempts.

UNC literally had an answer for all of Louisville’s questions.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this season, is the amount of times media, fans, and analysts have openly questioned the “toughness” of this year’s team. What had been a fun (and lazy) topic for local and national pundits has largely disappeared.

Kennedy “Second-Half” Meeks

Kennedy Meeks played 30 minutes. It was only the fifth time this season that he has reached that mark. It is only the sixth time in the last two seasons that he has 30 or more minutes.

This should not be dismissed as insignificant. Remember, there was a time when UNC fans were hoping Meeks would be nice, solid complement to Isaiah Hicks’ break-out senior season.

Most impressive is the way Meeks seemingly gets stronger as the game goes on - especially the last two games.

After being almost invisible in the first half against Virginia, Meeks finished with 13 and 7, including three big defensive blocks. His efforts in the second half of that game helped UNC pull away.

Wednesday night was an almost identical replay of that performance. After tallying 6 and 3 in only 12 minutes in the first half, Meeks once again had a strong finish.

In 18 minutes of second half action, thanks largely to Hicks’ incredible knack for fouling anything that walks, Meeks had eight points and seven rebounds. He walked off the court with a final line of 14 and 10 for his ninth double-double of the season.

There’s still plenty of basketball left to play, but the recent results are encouraging.

**BONUS**

With a few more efforts that resemble last night’s game, UNC will be staring at Roy’s 8th regular season ACC title.

He has been the coach at UNC for 14 years. It’s not quite the same as Kansas’ 13 straight Big 12 titles...but then again, the ACC isn’t the Big 12. So. There’s that.

For what it’s worth, UNC finished last night with all of their timeouts.

Louisville used their last timeout before the under-4 media timeout.

Bring on Pitt.