LAHAINA, Hawaii – Against a tough Wisconsin squad built on post play and rebounding, Kennedy Meeks dominated the interior and guided No. 4 North Carolina to a 71-56 win and its fourth Maui Invitational title on Wednesday.
Meeks, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds, blocked two shots and came up with two steals.
"I thought Kennedy Meeks, to me, may have played the best ball game since he's been at North Carolina," Roy Williams said during his postgame press conference. "And I've been really tough on Kennedy. It has been well deserved, but I have been really, really tough on him. I was really proud of the way he played tonight. On the defensive end, some of the steals that he came up with, the way he bothered people inside. I just thought he was good."
The senior center made his presence felt early, scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds before the first media timeout. The Charlotte, N.C. native had a double-double by halftime with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
"When I get a lot of rebounds, that gets me going," Meeks said. "I'm going to try to get to the boards as much as I can as often as I can."
Equally as important, he made life difficult for Ethan Happ, Wisconsin’s second-leading scorer. The sophomore center missed his three shots and committed a turnover in the Badgers’ first nine possessions. Happ finished with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting - three baskets coming in garbage time - and six rebounds.
Berry Outplays Koenig
In a matchup pitting two of the nation’s top point guards, Joel Berry was efficient offensively while locking down Bronson Koenig on the defensive end. As a result, the matchup was decidedly one-sided.
"I tried to do a great job on Bronson tonight," Berry said. "That was my key. I wasn't worried about anything else but playing defense on him and trying to stop him because he was their best player. And if we stop him, you know the points couldn't come from him. So I tried my best on that. And once I get myself going on the defensive end, I just feel like everything in my game clicks."
Berry finished with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting (2-of-3 3FG) and held Koenig to two points on 1-of-13 shooting (0-of-5 3FG). The junior point guard, who was named the Maui Invitational Tournament MVP, scored 12 of UNC’s 23 points in a 10-minute stretch in which the lead grew from three points to 11 with 15:16 to play.
"I thought Joel Berry was just sensational," Williams said. "He didn't play well last Friday over in Honolulu, and that's the only game this year he hasn't played super. But I thought tonight he was maybe better than anytime I've seen him, doing everything."
Change of Pace
Roy Williams has long tempted opponents to try to run with his teams, and for good reason. UNC has won 51 consecutive games when scoring 100 points or more. The true test for the Tar Heels has been against teams that slow the tempo down and eliminate the transition game.
UNC’s last nine losses, dating back to the 2015 ACC Tournament final against Notre Dame, have come against teams that ranked No. 200 or higher in kenpom.com’s adjusted tempo. Five of those losses came against teams that ranked No. 300 or higher in adjusted tempo.
Wisconsin is perennially one of the slowest teams in the country with regard to tempo, and the Badgers entered the Maui Invitational title game ranked No. 348, according to kenpom.com. Greg Gard’s squad held UNC to 68 possessions – five below its season average – but the Tar Heels were effective enough in their halfcourt sets to score 1.04 points per possession.
The Tar Heels have now won eight of their last nine games against teams that ranked No. 200 or higher in adjusted tempo.
Play of the Game
After Bronson Koenig stole the ball from Seventh Woods, the freshman guard got a bit of revenge on the defensive end with 9:33 to play. As Koenig drove in for a transition layup, Woods displayed his athleticism by chasing the Badger senior down and swatting his shot off the backboard.
The Tar Heels built an early lead against Oklahoma State on Tuesday by scoring on seven of their first eight possessions. UNC took a different approach on Wednesday, holding Wisconsin scoreless through its first 12 possessions. The Badgers missed all 11 of their field goal attempts and were down 8-0 before scoring on their 13th possession.
UNC’s previous two Maui Invitational championships – 2004-05 and 2008-09 – preceded national championship runs under Roy Williams.
After a much-needed week off, UNC returns to the road for its ACC/Big Ten matchup with No. 3 Indiana in Bloomington on Nov. 30 (9 p.m. EST/ESPN). The Hoosiers opened their season with a 103-99 overtime win over then-No. 2 Kansas before stumbling at Fort Wayne, 71-68, in overtime on Tuesday.