Big man Kennedy Meeks has big game at FSU

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Kennedy Meeks comes down with a rebound against Florida State.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As the red numbers fiercely ticked down on the game clock at the end of the first half, Kennedy Meeks caught the ball inside, gathered himself and finished strong with his left hand.

Before the ball could even drop through the nylon net, the freshman center began to backpedal.

He then stopped as the buzzer sounded and confidently nodded his head while high-fiving each member of the North Carolina men’s basketball team as it headed into the locker room.

UNC still trailed Florida State, but Meeks grinned from ear-to-ear.

The freshman looked on the bright side.

The Tar Heels had found themselves down by as much as 15 points in the first half of their 81-75 win against FSU Monday. But his basket at the end of the half only made it a one-possession game.

Meeks had faith.

Following the game, he responded with a quick, “Oh yeah,” while laughing when asked if he thought UNC had the momentum to mount a comeback. And that UNC did, fueled by a career night from its freshman big man.

“As the first half went on, I felt like I could be more aggressive and get those easy plays,” said Meeks, who finished with a career-high 23 points. “…We were all starting to get discouraged. We just needed that lift.”

Meeks emerged out of the tunnel at the Tucker Center to start the second half just as lively as he had entered it minutes before.

A strong contest from Meeks on FSU’s first offensive possession led to a wild shot.

On the other end of the floor, he converted.

On two of UNC’s offensive possessions in the next few minutes, the crowd again heard the Tar Heel freshman’s name ring through the arena.

Each time, Meeks skillfully dissected his matchup with Seminole center Boris Bojanovsky, who he outweighs by 50 pounds.

Sophomore forward Brice Johnson attributed Meeks’ fundamentals to the ease with which he was able to score inside Monday. The freshman connected on 11 field goals — the most by any Tar Heel in a single game this season .

“He didn’t play as well the last couple of games, so like coach (Roy Williams) said, it was great to have him out there able to score for us,” Johnson said.

“He had a big-time effect on offense.”

With UNC forward James Michael McAdoo in foul trouble all night, Meeks had the opportunity to show just how big of an impact he could have.

Whenever his team needed an energy boost, he was there. A strong outlet pass? He was there.

And most importantly, when UNC needed a basket — Meeks gracefully dropped the ball in the net, employing the same fundamental strategy he did on the play that sent his team into halftime.

Catch, gather and finish.

And after the game, the freshman received praise not only from his own coach, but the one that stood on the other side of the court, trying so desperately all night to combat his dominance.

“North Carolina’s going to have quality talent in all positions,” said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton.

“Meeks just happens to be one of those players that got the ball inside tonight, and we had a difficult time stopping him.”

sports@dailytarheel.com

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