CLEMSON, S.C. – Kennedy Meeks earned headlines on Tuesday by tying his career high with 16 rebounds and setting a new career high with 10 offensive boards, although it was his veteran play in the game’s final minutes that lifted No. 14 North Carolina to an 89-86 victory over Clemson.
Jaron Blossomgame’s free throw with 1:42 remaining gave the Tigers a tenuous 82-81 lead, and when Nate Britt drove off the right side 30 seconds later, four long years of experience turned into instinct for Meeks. The coaching staff stresses establishing front rebounding position on both ends of the floor, as well as taking a weakside angle on field goal attempts to improve the likelihood of grabbing an offensive rebound.
Meeks moved into ideal position for a potential miss, and when Britt’s layup attempt bounced hard off the glass, the senior center was there for the board, the putback and the and-1 opportunity. UNC would hold the lead for the remainder of the game.
He stayed active, rebounding Sidy Djitte’s miss on Clemson’s ensuing possession before blocking Marcquise Reed’s layup attempt 27 seconds later. He was also in the right spot to pick up Shelton Mitchell’s fumbled pass with eight seconds left and then delivered an outlet strike to Kenny Williams for an exclamation point of a layup.
Meeks made winning plays when it counted, but he also elevated his game when fellow post players Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley found themselves in foul trouble. Tuesday marks the seventh time he’s grabbed 10 or more rebounds this season, and the sixth time he’s grabbed 12 or more.
“That’s always my goal, to definitely be a big-time rebounder every game,” Meeks told reporters after the game.
By consistently proving himself on the glass – Meeks ranks fourth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 51st in defensive rebounding percentage – opponents have been forced to game plan for his abilities.
“I think that definitely opens things up for my teammates with people coming to box me out,” Meeks said. “I know one time they had a double-team box-out on me and that opened up something for Justin to be able get the rebound.”
With Bradley and Hicks in foul trouble, Williams elected to slide Justin Jackson down to the four instead of playing backup forward Luke Maye for extended minutes. That lineup stresses the primary big to carry a larger load, which Meeks embraced at Littlejohn Coliseum.
“Whenever I’m at the four, sometimes a lot of it is me just trying to find a body and box out, which might take me away from rebounding a little bit,” Jackson said. “So for him to be able to cover up like that whenever I’m at the four, that’s huge for us.”
Meeks scored 14 points to go along with his 16 rebounds, marking his fifth double-double of the season and the 17th of his career.