In UNC’s previous five games, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks combined to average 41.4 points on 64.7 percent shooting. That efficiency took a nose dive against a Wolfpack frontline that utilized its bulk – primarily BeeJay Anya and his 6-foot-9, 295-pound frame – to frustrate the Tar Heel bigs.
After Johnson made his first field goal attempt on UNC’s opening possession, the junior forward missed his final five shots. Hicks scored two points on 1-of-3 shooting, while Joel James missed both of his field goal attempts. Meeks was the most efficient of the bunch, scoring 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting and pulling down 14 rebounds.
“We just weren’t knocking down shots,” Johnson said. “They were being physical with us. We were getting good looks down there. We just couldn’t knock them down.”
UNC’s post players combined for 18 points on 7-of-21 shooting.
“They were getting pushed out quite a bit,” Justin Jackson said. “Kennedy probably did the best job of the bigs as far as getting low and being able to finish. All the bigs were getting pushed out too much and then they were keying in on the bigs a lot and that’s where the bigs have to decide to make a quick move to pitch it out."
UNC had plenty of success down low in its win over the Wolfpack in Raleigh last month. Meeks scored 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting, Hicks scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting and Johnson added 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
Anya was limited to 17 minutes in that game before fouling out. He bounced back with six blocks on Tuesday while disrupting numerous other attempts.
“He was just being a space eater,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting him away from the basket so our guards can be able to drive into the lane. He blocked six shots out there, so we’ve got to get him out from around the basket. He’s a terrific shot blocker.”
UNC head coach Roy Williams explained the preferred approach to attacking a shot blocker like Anya during his postgame press conference.
"Pump fake and go at him strong,” Williams said. “Don't pump fake 17 times and try to take the softest shot in the history of basketball. You've got to be tough; it's a physical game. You've got to be strong and if you don't have a good shot throw it back out and re-post."
Compounding the problems was the fact that UNC often missed the handful of good looks it did get underneath. The Tar Heels missed eight of their 11 field goal attempts in the paint in the first half and seven of their 15 attempts after halftime.
“We got the ball inside around the basket,” Marcus Paige said. “They’re physical down low. We got the shots we wanted. We didn’t make very many of them, obviously.”
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