Player Of The Game: UNC’s Big Men


It’s impossible to choose one single UNC player of the game from Tuesday. Sure, there are arguments that could be made for individuals, but there’s one main MVP. Chapel Hill didn’t win the game and while they had many, many chances—they never would have had a single one without such big play by the Tar Heels’ big men.

Swing/Forward Brice Johnson had 18 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes. Swing/Forward J.P. Tokoto had 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists. Both players were instrumental in keeping tempo upbeat and Duke on its heels.

Power forward Kennedy Meeks had 18 points and 7 assists. He played huge and was called on to body the undisputed future #1 draft pick in the NBA—but more on that in a second.

First we first have to give a massive, standing-room-only round of applause to Forward Joel James. This 6’10″ 280-pound power forward could moonlight as an Arnold Schwarzenegger-stunt double on weekends. (“Get to zhe basket! Do eet! Do eet now!”)

The man is a walking brick house. There’s only one problem: his play has been uniquely underwhelming thus far. It’s clear he mentally understands basketball, but his body is just slow to respond and his game is clunky. In a sentence—he has bad footwork.

If only UNC could get that fixed, they’d have a massive blue (Carolina Blue) chip in their corner. However, when he gets subbed in for Meeks it’s just a matter of time before he puts the other team on the free throw line or commits a make-you-grimace turnover. It’s tough to watch because it’s clear his body is disconnected with his mental acuity.

On Tuesday though, we saw a different Joel James. The big man made a contested put-back layup, defended on the opposite side of the court, and cleared out the paint on offense against his Duke defender. Then Joel hit a nice little turn around baby hook.

This is on Duke’s home floor. In arguably the most heated rivalry in sports. Joel James averages 2.5 points this season.

Makes you wonder if that’s how Roy Williams drew it up.

Overall, it was a confidence builder for James. It’d be phenomenal if this was a repeatable performance. He played big on the boards too.

Kennedy Meeks and Joel James are major anchors on the 2nd best rebounding squad in the nation. UNC averages 42.6 rebounds a game. A lot of that is boxing out, which Kennedy does incredibly well and Joel did a good job on Tuesday.

Most importantly, Kennedy and James played strong defense against Duke’s unanimous #1 pick: Jahlil Okafor. The 6’11” 270 pound forward is a beast. He averages 18 and 10 and is a true freshman starter on the #4 team in the nation.

UNC’s Joel James and Kennedy Meeks held Okafor to only 12 points and 13 rebounds. Is a 12 and 13 night a good night by anyone’s standards? Yes, of course it is.

However, on Duke’s home floor on a national stage—that’s a major win for UNC. Holding Jahlil Okafor to those substandard numbers is one of the major factors in the Tar Heels’ near success. The fact that he’s a consensus #1 pick in the nation will wear James and Meeks down.

So, let’s get this straight: Kennedy Meeks co-lead the Tar Heels in points while at the same time, holding the top player in the nation to a below average night. Joel James did his part to anchor the paint, as well. Both of these guys especially deserve a round of applause.