Seeking a bit of revenge against Northern Iowa after being shocked by the Panthers in Cedar Falls last season, the eighth-ranked UNC men’s basketball team did what it does best on Wednesday night at the Dean Dome.

Despite a slow start–and an offense that appeared stagnant more often than not– the Tar Heels rode Kennedy Meeks and the rest of their powerful inside presence to an 83-42 blowout victory.

Meeks led the Tar Heels with 18 points and eight rebounds as they improved to 11-2 this season with only one more non-conference game left to play.

It didn’t come anywhere near as easily as the final score might suggest, however.

With nine minutes remaining in the first half, Northern Iowa forward Klint Carlson—who was being guarded by Meeks–scored five straight points for his team that helped tie the contest at 19 apiece.

Meeks made life difficult inside for Northern Iowa’s big men all night long on Wednesday. (Todd Melet)

UNC head coach Roy Williams unleashed all kinds of colorful words at Meeks from his spot on the sidelines, before removing him at the next media timeout.

With the Tar Heels only up by seven points at the break, the Hall-of-Famer continued to implore his players to pick up the defensive intensity.

From that point on, Carlson added just two more points to his total and the Panthers as a team scored just 23 over the final 28 minutes—finishing with the lowest point total ever against a Williams-coached UNC team.

“My Christmas wish at halftime was that we’d play better defense and I think we did,” Williams said. “But also they missed some shots that they normally make.

“I thought Kennedy Meeks was the difference,” the coach continued. “I got so mad at him during the first half because we had talked about Klint Carlson going left, going left, going left—then he lets him drive it in there and lay it up left-handed.”

A clearly motivated Meeks came out in the second half and looked like a completely different player than the one who has found his share of struggles this season.

While locking down his matchup on the defensive end, he noticed that Carlson was running out of energy.

Meeks then used that to his advantage in order to get a plethora of easy buckets around the rim—an offensive strategy used by the Tar Heels often throughout the night, as UNC outscored Northern Iowa 52-20 in the paint.

“I think it was definitely just me trying to be more assertive,” Meeks told reporters after the game. “Trying to come out on the defensive end first, and not worrying about scoring or getting rebounds or anything like that—just flat out defending the best that I could.”

It wasn’t just Meeks’ inside defense that did the trick, though.

Junior point guard Joel Berry—who scored 11 points to join Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Justin Jackson in double figures—helped lead a strong effort on the perimeter that limited the normally three-ball happy Panthers to just six-of-24 shooting from beyond the arc.

This severely restricted their offensive flow, and kept them from getting hot in a manner similar to when they made 11 three-pointers in their upset win over Berry and the Tar Heels last season—a game this veteran team remembers very well.

Point guard Joel Berry led a perimeter defensive effort that held Northern Iowa to just 25 percent shooting from beyond the arc–a favorite offensive weapon for the Panthers. (Todd Melet)

“They shoot a lot of threes and they’ve got some great players on their team,” Berry said. “But once we started buying in to doing what we wanted to do on the defensive end–and not having them just throw the ball wherever they wanted to, and do whatever they wanted to—we were able to stop that.

“And that was good for us.”

Coming off a tough loss to Kentucky last Saturday that featured non-stop up-and-down basketball, the Tar Heels were content to slow that pace down just a bit on Wednesday—especially considering the threes weren’t falling for them either.

After hitting from downtown just once during the opening half, the Tar Heels hit three of the seven they made for the entire game during their 28-3 run to close it out.

It was a night that centered on the big men—which is the norm for this program—but also one that centered on defense, which definitely is not always the norm.

As far as Meeks is concerned, Tar Heel fans can only hope this was a breakout game for a player expected by many to be a major key to another Final Four run.

“You saw him out there denying, you saw him out there switching, you saw him playing defense the way he can play,” Williams said of Meeks. “I never ask our big guys to guard the other team’s point guard. All you gotta do is guard your big guy.

“He was the difference in the game.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will take the next four days off for Christmas before returning to practice Monday night. They’ll play their next game on Wed. Dec. 28 at home against Monmouth.

Game Notes:

  • Junior guard/forward Theo Pinson (broken foot) dressed out in uniform for the first time this season. He did not participate in any warmups, however, as it was confirmed by the UNC Athletic Department that Pinson was only in uniform because he was tired of wearing a suit.
  • UNC shot 61.8 percent from the floor in the second half. All four halves this season where the Tar Heels have shot at least 60 percent have been during the second half.
  • Northern Iowa’s three offensive rebounds were the fewest by a UNC opponent all year.