CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Sunday night will be one to remember for Kennedy Meeks.
With 44 seconds left to play in North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament second round victory over Arkansas, Meeks tipped in a Joel Berry heave with his left hand to give the Tar Heels a 68-65 lead. On the next defensive possession, the senior forward corralled another board off a missed free throw by Moses Kingsley, securing UNC’s spot in the Sweet 16.
The rebounds were two of the bigger boards of Meeks’s time in Chapel Hill, and they also happened to be the 999th and 1,000th of his career. He’s the ninth Tar Heel in history to record 1,000 rebounds.
The putback provided UNC some breathing room after falling behind by five points with under four minutes remaining. It’s a play that has become a staple in practice since Meeks joined the program.
“Three years ago I started doing a lot of tipping drills and now we do them every other practice,” Roy Williams said on his radio show on Monday. “We’ve gotten a few baskets out of them this year and the crazy thing is Kennedy’s was a left handed tip-in.”
The veteran forward finished the game with 16 points and 11 rebounds, amassing the 12th double-double of the season and 24th of his career. Solid numbers despite missing some layups in the first half due to hurrying and a slew of double pumps, according to Williams. With 1,000 rebounds now in the record books, the 14th-year UNC head coach still wants more from Meeks, not only in the final weeks of this season, but also once he begins the next phase of his basketball journey.
“He really is a good rebounder,” Williams said. “His freshman year what he did for his body to change around, he still doesn’t know how explosive he is. He could do even more. He gets some big time rebounds for us.”
What was the situation with Joel Berry’s foot injury before the Arkansas game?
“He was able to play. I didn’t want to hold him on the bench if he was good enough to play. I wanted to start him so he didn’t sit over there and get stiff. It wasn’t a typical Joel Berry game, 2-13, but we needed him out there and we probably would not have won the game without him.”
With 3:28 to play in the game yesterday, you trailed 65-60. You then closed the game on a 12-0 run. What changed?
“You never know what’s going to happen. I was trying everything – I was jumping at them, yelling at them, all kinds of things. The 3:47 mark was the under-4 timeout, and I said, ‘Hey, this is going to be good for us. We haven’t had an experience of coming back and winning a big game and being down like this. This is really going to be good for us…’ Then we got some good play out there… We made some nice plays. The last seven possessions they were 0-6 with a turnover and we scored six out of seven.”
What were the issues for your team when Arkansas started to come back?
“We lost our damn mind. You foul a guy making a three pointer, you foul another guy shooting a three pointer and then you don’t step out and guard the guy who’s already made two three pointers. (Daryl) Macon scored 10 points in three possessions and we’re standing around like ‘what time is it?’ Our brains went out and hid in the locker room at that point and then we turned it over, tried to dribble between two or three people… it was pathetic.”
Do you believe a team has to survive a scare like that when you’re moving through the NCAA Tournament?
“It depends. In ‘05 we had two or three scares. I’ve seen it happen a lot. I’ve seldom seen a team run through it like we did in ‘09, with the exception of LSU…. It happens a lot and I hope we’re still talking about this in a couple of weeks.”
Justin Jackson seemed to have broken out of his shooting slump against TSU in the Round of 64.
“Well he was 5-for-6 (from three) in the first half and in the previous four games he had made seven. Then the score of the game dictated that I didn’t play a lot of anybody in the second half. He was sensational for us… He did a great job for us.”
The ACC had nine teams in the tournament and UNC is the only team still playing. Were you surprised to see the league struggle like it did?
“Yes and no. I still think we were the best league, but it makes no difference. If you play at the end of the year, everybody says yes. Last year we had four teams in the Elite Eight, two teams in the Final Four, and everybody said by far that the ACC was the best league in the country. If you go back before the NCAA Tournament started, we were ranked third or fourth, but we played better in the NCAA Tournament and people said good things about us. We didn’t play as well this year, didn’t get as far, and people are going to say negative things.”
What were the biggest reasons for the 17 turnovers against Arkansas?
“That’s part Arkansas. That’s part of their livelihood. When they’re playing basketball they’re trying to turn you over. In the first part of the game we didn’t turn it over… in the last part of the first half and the start of the second half I think we did start trying to challenge the double team too much…. Theire defense is really good. They’re active, they’re athletic, they’re quick. Once they smell a little bit of panic they get a little bit better.”