Kennedy Meeks was well on his way to a career night in Barclays Center for UNC, but a mediocre second half doomed both him and the Tar Heels. Meeks finished the night with a stellar 19 points and 12 rebounds on 9-14 shooting. It was one of his best performances in a Carolina uniform, although most of his production came in a dominating first half.
Meeks started out strong, absolutely working the Blue Devils in the paint. He used his size, body, and experience to great effect. He had 10 of UNC’s first 12 points in the game and started six of six from the field. Even an experienced player like Amile Jefferson couldn’t handle him. The first half showcased the best of Meeks: a silky and creative post scorer with a deft touch around the rim.
His rebounding was big, too, and helped carry North Carolina for most of the game. Meeks had seven rebounds in the first half. That gave the Heels a 21-13 rebounding advantage over the Blue Devils in the first twenty minutes. Ultimately, Meeks finished with 15 points on 7-9 shooting, with UNC taking a 49-42 lead into halftime.
But, how the second half would change everything. You can’t blame Meeks, though. A combination of foul trouble, lineup mistakes, and shots just not falling sent UNC packing in the semifinals. Joel Berry II missed much of the second half with four fouls and never really got going aside from a few hard drives to the basket early on. Justin Jackson kept getting okay looks, but they wouldn’t fall for him (6 of 22 from the field).
Meeks wasn’t as heavily involved in the final twenty minutes, only scoring four points. It’s confusing as to why he didn’t get the ball more, and that’s something coach Roy Williams will have to answer. The Duke front court couldn’t handle him at all, but the game plan sadly went away from him.
He still contributed in other areas, however. He frustrated Jefferson all night—who eventually fouled out and was limited to just four rebounds. Meeks continued his solid rebounding, and UNC finished with a 43-32 advantage in that area over Duke. When it was all said and done, Meeks had 19 points, 12 rebounds and a block. It was a great individual game for him but not enough for the win.
Special attention should be paid to Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson, as well. Both will be crucial in the NCAA Tournament, and they asserted themselves as legit guys to watch in the coming weeks. Combining with Meeks, Hicks finished 19 points and seven rebounds. Pinson lit up the stat sheet with four points, eight assists, six rebounds and one thunderous, eye-popping dunk. Even in defeat, it was encouraging to see these two guys elevate their games when it mattered most.
Meeks did everything he could to get the win. Hopefully, despite the pain of this loss, it will be remembered as one of Meeks’ best games as a Tar Heel. Everything he’s done well over the past four years was evidenced in this game. The post scoring, the rebounding, the intelligent movement. Let’s see if he can continue this sort of powerful play deep into the tournament.