Meeks, No. 5 UNC Use Depth to Defeat Wolfpack

In just his second game back from a bruised knee—and his first time back in the starting lineup—junior forward Kennedy Meeks scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half on Saturday, as the No. 5 UNC men’s basketball team defeated the NC State Wolfpack 67-55 at the Dean Dome.

Now at 16-2 this season—including 5-0 in the ACC—the Tar Heels are forcing opponents to pick their poison each game as they continue to extend the best conference start since Roy Williams arrived as head coach in 2003.

Despite seeing its three leading scorers–Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, and Justin Jackson–held to a combined 15 points for the game, UNC didn’t panic.

Roy Williams giving Brice Johnson some tough love. Johnson scored just six points on Saturday. (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams giving Brice Johnson some tough love. Johnson scored just six points on Saturday. (Todd Melet)

The team simply turned to Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, who scored eight of his 10 points during a stagnant first half, to get the job done.

“For us, our depth has always been a positive,” Williams said after the game. “I think Isaiah and Nate [Britt] really kept us in the game in the first half. And then Kennedy was really much, much better in the second half.”

Although the Wolfpack boast the top scorer in the ACC with point guard Cat Barber, UNC took advantage of NC State’s biggest weakness—depth.

Eleven different players took the floor for the Tar Heels compared to just seven for their opponents.

By the end of the game, NC State head coach Mark Gottfried was having his team play zone defense to try and not only stop the Tar Heels’ inside attack, but also to conserve energy. Unfortunately for Gottfried, Meeks and his teammates saw blood in the water and pounced—opening up a game that was tied at halftime.

“When they got into that zone, you could kind of see that they were getting tired—and also because they were in foul trouble,” Meeks said. “So we just tried to keep attacking them and getting those and-one baskets or whatever it may be.”

Meeks not only made noise with his scoring on Saturday, but he also provided a number of hustle plays, including a few dives on the floor and three blocked shots.

As the Wolfpack players began wearing down, Meeks’ energy was the difference down the stretch. In fact it was that, more than anything else that impressed Williams.

“I think it was just total effort,” Williams said of Meeks’ performance. “You saw it yourself. I asked him ‘Did you really dive those three times or did somebody trip you?’ He said he really did dive.

“But I think that was important,” the coach added. “And his blocked shots [were too]. In the first half he was sort of tiptoeing up there.”

The UNC defense held the ACC's leading scorer, Cat Barber (12) to just nine points. (Todd Melet)

The UNC defense held the ACC’s leading scorer, Cat Barber (12) to just nine points. (Todd Melet)

After a week-long break leading up to this game, UNC will now play out the rest of the season without that kind of prolonged layoff.

For that reason, depth becomes more important, especially considering the heavy competition awaiting the Tar Heels at the back end of their schedule.

The fact that Meeks is back at full strength, though, should put fear into the team’s upcoming foes. They’re capable of winning in so many different ways that these players all legitimately believe this may just be the start of something special.

“Somebody had to step up with Brice and Marcus and Justin [not having] their best games,” Meeks said. “It just happened to be me today.

“It feels good to be a part of this team,” he continued. “We’re capable of going really far this year.

Up Next: 

A second straight home game against an in-state rival awaits the Tar Heels on Wednesday–as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons make a visit to the Dean Dome.

Game Notes:

  • Meeks was 10 for 16 from the floor for the game, including 8 for 10 in the second half. The rest of UNC’s starters made 11 field goals for the game (5 by Berry); take out Meeks’ 10 for 16 and the rest of the Tar Heels shot 15 for 50 (30 percent).
  • Roy Williams is 29-3 against NC State as a head coach – 24-3 at Carolina and 5-0 while at Kansas.
  • Carolina held Cat Barber to a season-low nine points on 4 of 11 shooting from the floor, a season-high tying five turnovers and no free throw attempts. Barber had been averaging 8.7 free throw attempts this season.

  •  Marcus Paige scored three points for the second consecutive game and did not make a three-point field goal for the first time in 42 games.



Five Reasons Behind Roy’s Hate for State

For Roy Williams, the pain probably started not long after the buzzer sounded last Saturday afternoon.  Marcus Paige had just nailed a gutsy left-handed scoop shot with eight seconds to play to knock off  fourth ranked Louisville when all of a sudden, in a phenomenon that occurs twice each year, his head coach felt a sharp, burning sensation in his gut.  Roy said nothing after the game, keeping all complaints to himself, but I knew what was wrong.

For the four nights after the big win, I had a hunch that Coach Williams would not be able to eat.

He’s mentioned the condition before. In 2008, after Tyler Hansbrough and the Tar Heels crushed the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill, Roy told the media that he’d “rather not eat than lose to NC State,” and that he informed Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, and the rest of his team that “they weren’t eating postgame unless they beat NC State.”

In this year’s first meet-up between the long-time rivals Wednesday night, Marcus Paige gave coach Williams his 23rd victory in 25 tries since taking the job at North Carolina, with a masterful performance – scoring 23 points, dishing out nine assists and also failing to record a single turnover.

For Roy, it must have also felt like Paige fed him a win with an extra side of chili-cheese fries, because you know he was hungry for this one.

Marcus Paige helped his coach's appetite return with his play Wednesday (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige helped his coach’s appetite return with his play Wednesday (Todd Melet)

That’s why I feel safe saying that it was Roy Williams’ stomach that was actually the most relieved Tar Heel inside PNC Arena when State’s freshman forward Cody Martin missed long on his tip-in attempt that would have sent the game to overtime, giving the Heels an 81-79 victory in rival territory.

For the majority of Carolina fans, Duke is seen as UNC’s most hated rival, and the games between the two schools are some of the most intense in all of sports (professional or college). State basketball is often dismissed and treated like the red-headed stepchild, with the main insult being that it’s not even a “true rivalry” anymore due to the Tar Heels’ 31-6 record against the Pack since Dean Smith retired.

Roy Williams isn’t the majority of fans. He has no problem showing that emotion-filled “H-word” for the team in Raleigh. That isn’t a mystery. The mystery is why? When that strong emotional energy could be put towards Coach K’s Durham Empire, what could possibly fuel all this hate for State?

Roy Williams possibly expressing his feelings about NC State to his bench. (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams possibly expressing his feelings about NC State to his bench. (Todd Melet)

I decided it was necessary to bring out my magnifying glass, and go searching for answers. During my quest, I was led to five possible reasons that Roy’s stomach churns at the sight of the color red.

Let’s take a look at the findings of the investigation, which we can call the “Roy-State Report.”

  1. Bullying- There was a time in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that NC State, led by coach Norm Sloan and star David Thompson, actually mattered on the national scene. They won three ACC championships, a national title in 1974, and had a nine game win streak against Carolina. Roy, a member of UNC’s class of ’72, recalled what it was like having friends at State during his college days when he told the media before their game against the Wolfpack in January 2012 that “…. I was a freshman in college and some old high school buddies that I had played baseball and basketball with were over at State and they gave me enough crap for the rest of my life. I didn’t appreciate it and I didn’t like it. So I’ve always had the feeling that this is an important game…”
  2. He Sees the Future- If you missed the game Wednesday or haven’t started watching college basketball yet this season, it’s my job to break the news that NC State is young, talented, athletic, and on the rise. Leading scorer Trevor Lacey is a junior expected to return next year, and guard Ralston Turner is the only senior on the team that plays at least ten minutes per game. The rest of the rotation consists of freshmen and sophomores all expected to make big improvements under head coach Mark Gottfried. They’ve also beaten Duke twice in the past two years. Roy may just want the fans to recognize this and start hating accordingly.

    Coach Mark Gottfried looks to return NC State to its glory days (Todd Melet)

    Coach Mark Gottfried looks to return NC State to its glory days (Todd Melet)

  3. Bricks- The University of North Carolina was the first public university in the United States. This is common knowledge around Chapel Hill. The brick pathways around campus have long been associated with the school, famous among students for their many uneven “potholes” that trip anyone not watching their step. It’s my amateur theory that NC State, during its construction, loved the idea of UNC’s bricks so much that they stole it and extended it to their entire campus, making everything they could out of red and white bricks.  The result was, in my personal opinion, one of the uglier college campuses in America, which could at least explain why Roy would hate going there.
  4. The Kool-Aid Man- No State fan will ever forget that bright red blazer. Former Wolfpack head coach Sidney Lowe finished his career in Raleigh just 1-10 against the Tar Heels but it was the fashion statement he made in the Pack’s February 2007 home victory against UNC that caught the eye of many. It started as a tribute to Jim Valvano, but when NC State scored a huge upset over a heavily favored Carolina team, the jacket took on a life of its own, with Lowe continuing to wear it during his team’s big games. Roy had to have been furious losing to a coach with an outfit that resembled the Kool-Aid man, with the memory strong enough to motivate himself into never losing to Lowe again.
  5.  The Color– Growing up in North Carolina means that for as long as he has been alive, Roy Williams has associated the color red with NC State University. It also means that in a predominantly Christian state, Roy learned that God painted the sky Carolina Blue and that Satan himself was colored red. In coming to UNC, it may have been tough for Roy to be brainwashed into believing that devils are, in fact, Duke blue.


Although it can be easily argued that the “Roy-State Report” findings were somewhat inconclusive, they should at least help to answer why Wanda Williams, Roy’s wife, will most likely only need to cook dinner for one next month during the week of February 24th, when the Wolfpack return to Chapel Hill.

Those pains will be back, and again, it could be up to Marcus Paige to feed his coach.

Wolfpack Adds Alabama Transfer Lacey to Program

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina State has added Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey.

Lacey will sit out this season and have two years of eligibility. In a statement from the school Tuesday, coach Mark Gottfried said Lacey “is a winner and really understands the game.”

The 6-foot-3 guard started 52 of 69 games over two seasons. Last year, he averaged 11.3 points and 3.8 rebounds while starting all 36 games. He also led the team with 62 3-pointers.

Lacey was a five-star prospect and Parade All-American when he chose the home-state Crimson Tide after being recruited by Kentucky, Kansas and Connecticut, among others. In April, Alabama coach Anthony Grant had called Lacey’s decision to leave “a family decision to pursue other opportunities.”

Gottfried was Grant’s predecessor at Alabama, coaching there from 1998-2009.