Kennedy Meeks steps up against Louisville

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — After Saturday’s 82-72 win against Richmond, North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams told freshman Kennedy Meeks he was playing like the worst player on the planet.

Following Sunday’s 93-84 win against No. 3 Louisville, Williams had four words for Meeks: “Hell of a game.”

The freshman center transformed a one-point, three-rebound performance against Richmond into a big day against Louisville, setting career highs with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

“College basketball is what Kennedy Meeks did,” Williams said. “Today he was unbelievable. I told him last night at snack that he wasn’t ready to play. He didn’t have the intensity, he has to be ready tomorrow because this is big-time college basketball.”

Meeks’ seven assists led the team, most coming in the form of long outlet passes ahead to his teammates streaking toward the other end of the court.

“(Kennedy’s) outlet ability, like coach always talks about, is special,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. “He can hit you with a dime on the run, so having that option to take away from the pressure up front … is really important.”

The McDonald’s All-American, known for his good hands, said the outlet pass is something that comes naturally.

“I don’t know where I got it from,” Meeks said. “It’s a reaction.”

After such a dismal performance in the previous game, Meeks admitted he wanted to be alone to wallow, but instead he spent time with his teammates and made the decision to let go of the poor performance.

“Of course I wanted to shed a few tears, I wanted to go in my room and don’t talk to nobody, but I didn’t,” Meeks said. “I kept the same smile, the same laugh, joking around with my teammates because I knew that today if I had the same attitude coming into today’s game then the outcome wouldn’t be the same.”

And it certainly wasn’t.

With fewer than six and a half minutes off the clock, Meeks assisted on a Brice Johnson dunk followed by a bucket of his own and a steal in the span of a minute.

The Charlotte native scored five points before halftime and erupted after the break to add eight more points along with 10 additional rebounds.

With forward James Michael McAdoo nearly invisible for most of the game, Meeks stepped up to keep the Tar Heels competitive in the post.

McAdoo said having Meeks down low gave UNC an advantage over a Louisville team that lacks height in the post.

“Just on the boards, that’s where we knew we could really dominate them, just keeping the ball alive,” McAdoo said. “He’s a great finisher around the basket, and he even stepped out and hit a jump shot, which is huge. He just played awesome.”

The night before taking on Louisville, Meeks and his fellow post players met Shaquille O’Neal, an experience, Meeks said, that was one of the reasons for the difference in his game.

“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Meeks said. “I didn’t get a chance to actually watch him, watch him. I know that he’s probably the most aggressive player, the most physical player to play in the NBA. I think that helped me a lot in giving me a chance to meet him.”

With a performance like the one he put together Sunday afternoon, Meeks is poised for a breakout freshman year, something the Tar Heels need out of their center.

“He definitely has his moments,” Paige said. “Like coach said, yesterday he didn’t play very well, and that’s typical of a freshman to have a good game and then a bad game, but he was sensational.

“You see a couple of his great outlet passes. He’s battling on the boards, finishing inside, and you know, we need that consistently from him. It shows you what he’s capable of.”

sports@dailytarheel.com

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