CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Kennedy Meeks scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds as No. 8 North Carolina outscored Northern Iowa 52-20 in the post en route to an 85-42 victory on Wednesday.
Meeks has thrived throughout his career against teams lacking the size and athleticism to match his skill set in the post, and that trend continued against the Panthers. The senior forward was consistently able to establish low post position and was aggressive to the rim, setting a season high with nine free throw attempts. He scored 10 points and six rebounds after halftime as UNC blew open a competitive game.
"I thought he was the difference in the game in the second half," Roy Williams said during his postgame press conference.
The Charlotte, N.C. native also utilized his post position to find open teammates, connecting first with Joel Berry on the opposite wing for a 3-pointer to push UNC’s lead to 60-39 and then dumping off to a driving Hicks for a thunderous slam on the next possession.
It was a welcome return to his early season production after a slight drop since returning from Hawaii.
"It's all about the opportunities and taking advantage of them," Meeks said. "I feel like the last couple of games I really haven't been taking advantage of the opportunities the best way that I could have."
Meeks is averaging 12.9 points and 9.0 rebounds on the season, and his head coach indicated his senior center will be in the running for defensive player of the game honors after Wednesday's win.
"I do think he helped us his first three years with his passing and some other things, and I think now he's helping us on the defensive end and scoring in the low post," Williams said.
Four days after giving up 103 points to Kentucky, the Tar Heels held the Panthers to 42 points, which equals the fewest allowed during the Williams era. UNI shot 34.8 percent from the field and its 16 made field goals were a season low by an opponent.
UNC held the Panthers scoreless over a seven-minute stretch during a defining 18-2 run early in the second half. Northern Iowa’s 16 second-half points are also a season low by an opponent.
“[We] were just pressuring them a little bit more,” junior wing Justin Jackson said. “We were able to keep them in front of us a whole lot more so we didn’t have to help on drives and kicks. We were able to pressure them while being able to stay in front of them, which helped a lot.”
Williams implored his team at halftime to do a better job of closing out on the perimeter, given that the Panthers take nearly as many shots from beyond the arc as inside it (49.4 percent). The Tar Heels answered the call as UNI shot 25.9 percent after halftime, including 6.7 percent from 3-point range (1-of-15).
Small Lineup Sparks Early Run
UNC broke open a tied game with a 12-4 first-half run and relied on its small lineup to spark the rally.
Klint Carlson’s 3-pointer tied the game at 19-19 with 8:47 to play before halftime, prompting Roy Williams to go small following Isaiah Hicks’s layup on UNC’s ensuing possession. Hicks and Kennedy Meeks checked out, and Luke Maye and Brandon Robinson checked in.
The Tar Heels scored on six of their next 12 possessions while holding the Panthers to two scores and three turnovers over their next 12 possessions to push the lead to 31-23 with 2:15 to play. The lineup was so effective that Williams stayed small for the final 7:58 of the half.
Dominating Specialty Stats
UNC outscored UNI, 20-3, in points off turnovers, 13-2 in second-chance points and 11-0 in fast break points.
More Two Guard Shooting Struggles
In the two games since Joel Berry’s return from an ankle injury, Nate Britt and Kenny Williams have combined for seven points on 3-of-13 shooting.
Against the Panthers, Britt scored three points on 1-of-5 shooting and grabbed three rebounds, while Williams scored two points on 1-of-3 shooting and dished out five assists.
Following Christmas break, UNC hosts Monmouth in its final non-conference game of the regular season on Dec. 28. The Hawks, coached by former Tar Heel King Rice, are 10-2 with a road win over Memphis and road losses to South Carolina and Syracuse.