By Adam Lucas
LAHAINA—Part of being a Hall of Fame coach is knowing when to make a timely and effective threat.
That’s what Roy Williams did on Monday, when he perused a Chaminade front line that went 6-foot-7, 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7 (180 pounds). The head coach made it pretty simple for his senior post duo of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks: “I told them if we weren’t going to have a great advantage inside, I should go small.”
They responded with a veritable paint feast. Meeks and Hicks combined to score 42 points and grab 16 rebounds on 15-of-21 shooting. Add in freshman reserve Tony Bradley, and the UNC big men amassed 56 points and 24 rebounds on 20-of-27 (74.1%) shooting. Those three players by themselves outrebounded the Silverswords (24 to 23) and almost outscored them (Chaminade with the slim 61-56 advantage).
Williams’ verdict on the performance of his posts: “They took that challenge.”
“It’s pretty obvious to everybody, their size and strength was the overwhelming factor of the game,” Chaminade coach Eric Bovaird said.
The Tar Heel big man onslaught keyed one of the most efficient Carolina offensive performances of the Williams era. Carolina turned the ball over 13 times in the game. Take out those 13 possessions, and the Tar Heels scored points on 52 of the team’s 62 trips down the court.
It made for a pretty simple gameplan for the UNC guards, who found plenty of open passing lanes to the paint, and benefited from the Meeks/Hicks/Bradley trio crashing the backboards (10 offensive rebounds for the group) when the perimeter shots didn’t fall.
“We had a size advantage,” said senior Stilman White, who had a career-high five points. “At one point Coach called a timeout and said, ‘Tony, Kennedy and Isaiah are 12 for 12.’ He was getting mad at us for firing up some perimeter shots. That’s something we have to be mindful of, because most nights we have the size advantage on people. We need to pound the ball inside because no one can stop those guys for an entire game.”
One of Williams’ keys on the Carolina white board in the locker room read, “Get the ball inside by pass or dribble.” Chaminade tried to thwart the UNC size advantage by doubling the post, but the post trio handled it effectively, passing out of it or making a quick move before the second defender could arrive. That’s the advantage of not just having talented big men, but experienced talented big men.
Even the youngster, though, understood how to execute. Bradley had perhaps the prettiest of the post moves against the double. In the second half, he felt the defender arriving from the baseline, and instead of turning into trouble, turned over his left shoulder to drop in a soft shot that pushed the Carolina advantage to 28 with twelve minutes left.
“Coach always says, ‘Go to your moves quick,’” said Meeks, a senior, who has heard that advice hundreds of times during his career in Chapel Hill. “When we do that, we don’t have to worry about the double or triple team.”
The win in the Maui Invitational opener means Tuesday will bring an interesting clash of styles. Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans shot 26 times in the Cowboys’ win over UConn, and added another 17 free throw attempts. Evans was also responsible for five of Oklahoma State’s 18 steals.
The Cowboys are currently second in the country in free throws attempted; Tuesday will be the toughest defensive test of the season so far for a team that frustrated Williams with its’ defensive effort on Friday night at Hawaii.
Roy Williams will have to find different ways to challenge his club—defend without fouling, match Oklahoma State’s defensive intensity—on Tuesday. He hopes they meet that test as well as they did on Monday night.