He got half-dressed and wandered aimlessly until he settled over a Gatorade cooler with a box score draped across the top. He popped in a piece of Juicy Fruit. Then another. He glanced at the score: No. 18 Duke 86, No. 8 North Carolina 78.
Then he found his own numbers. Just nine points. Just five rebounds. He couldn’t help but shake his head.
Hours earlier, during the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s shootaround, the Tar Heels (21-5, 9-3 ACC) found out Isaiah Hicks would miss the game after tweaking his hamstring the previous day.
No Tar Heel, especially Hicks’ partner in the frontcourt, pointed to his absence as an excuse for the final score. But they knew what he brought to the table.
“I just think if we had Isaiah the game would be a lot different, of course, just because of his presence, just because of what he brings, his veteran leadership. So to not have him hurts,” Meeks said. “But like I said before, we can’t do anything about that.”
Meeks only needed to look a little farther down to see the tangible figures showing Hicks’ absence.
Hicks only averages 5.6 rebounds per game, but his presence as another big body down low helped Meeks average 9.4 boards per contest before Thursday’s game. Without him, North Carolina was outrebounded, 31-30, by Duke (19-5, 7-4 ACC).
It was less than a year ago that the Tar Heels stormed into Cameron Indoor Stadium and dominated the glass to the tune of 64-29. There, Meeks racked up 14 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. Thursday night saw the Tar Heels grab just seven offensive rebounds, less than half of their season average coming in (16.4 per game).
“There’s a couple balls we should have got — the loose balls we needed to have to keep the game close — and they got them,” said junior wing Theo Pinson, who returned after missing three games with an ankle injury. “So I think that was the true turning point of the game. Offensive rebounding is one thing we do well.”
Then perhaps Meeks looked at the other names, those who were tasked with easing the loss of Hicks.
Luke Maye contributed on the offensive end, tallying eight points on 4-of-8 shooting, but he only had two rebounds and played limited minutes while dealing with foul trouble.
It was the same with Tony Bradley. Eight points, but just three rebounds. Whether it was the product of the hostile environment or just an off night, he couldn’t get his 6-foot-11 frame in position to bring down more boards.
“It was relatively a low possession game, even though both teams shot 52, 53 percent,” head coach Roy Williams said. “There weren’t that many misses, but we need to rebound the basketball better ... We’ve gotta do a better job of that than we did tonight.”
But maybe what hurt the most was what Meeks couldn’t see on the box score. Maybe it’s what he thought was a missed foul on Duke’s Grayson Allen as he drove to the hoop and missed a dunk. Maybe it was a minute and a half later, when he challenged Jayson Tatum at the rim and ended up on a poster.
But, above all, maybe it was the feeling of walking out of Cameron Indoor for the last time, head down and eyes wet amid the ecstasy the opposing team and the Cameron Crazies were feeling.
That would make anyone shake their head.