It took Meeks all of five games to showcase his considerable talents as a Tar Heel. He posted his first career double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds in UNC’s upset over then-No. 3 Louisville. The statistic that stood out more, however, was his seven assists courtesy of a lethally delicate outlet pass over the top of the Cardinals’ fullcourt press.
That surprising high was met with various detours in the following months. After collecting more fouls (2) than points or rebounds in UNC’s loss at Syracuse on Jan. 11, Meeks averaged 12 points and 7.7 rebounds over his next outings. But as soon as the switch appeared to be locked in place, the Charlotte, N.C. product stumbled, averaging four points and 4.3 rebounds during a three-game stretch culminating on Saturday against Pitt.
What followed was a breakout performance at Florida State on Monday night. Meeks scored a career-high 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting and added seven rebounds and a pair of blocks. He’s the first Tar Heel to score 20 points or more on at least 90 percent shooting since Sean May did it in the 2005 national title game, according to ESPN.com.
Roy Williams, as expected, is nowhere close to suggesting that his sizable freshman has arrived. When asked about Meeks’s play against FSU, the 11th-year UNC head coach highlighted dribble penetration as the primary reason for the scoring bonanza.
Williams told reporters that Meeks “still doesn’t really post up aggressively enough, low enough” and indicated that the rookie forward was pulled out of the game on Monday for not running down the floor on one possession.
“He didn’t run and if he had run, then he would’ve had a lay up,” Williams said. “Guys like to score. Sean May is the most coachable player I’ve ever had and the whole first year Sean didn’t understand what it was about running and he’ll tell you that. In the second year he did and I’m hoping Kennedy, Brice [Johnson] and everybody will find it over the summer too. It’s hard but it’s also hard when you’re sitting over there with me.”
Meeks’s ups and downs haven’t come as a surprise to his teammates.
“He’s a freshman that’s had his struggles and had his good games early on,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. “Everybody kind of hits that freshman wall. There was a stretch where he played a couple of games not to his best ability, but he’s really bounced back and he’s had a couple of really good games lately. That’s just the way it goes as a freshman.”
Thursday night’s contest against No. 5 Duke will present another significant challenge for Meeks. It’s expected that he will be matched up with the smaller, quicker Amile Jefferson (6-9, 210; 6.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) while James Michael McAdoo draws Jabari Parker as his assignment.
Williams dismissed the notion that Meeks’s play on Monday would change his team’s game plan against the Blue Devils.
“He didn’t just come out the other night,” Williams said. “He’s had some big time games for us. It’s a really difficult matchup for him because sometimes they go small and it’s really difficult for him, but he also can present some problems on the other end.”
His 6-foot-9, 290-pound frame is the top concern for Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. If Meeks gets on a roll as he did in Tallahassee, the Blue Devils may have to turn to 7-foot, 260-pound Marshall Plumlee, who’s averaging just 8.5 minutes per game in conference play.