East Lansing, MI. Usually rebounding and toughness are the benchmarks of Michigan State’s basketball program but last night in front of a sold out home crowd in East Lansing, the # 1 ranked Spartans were outworked and out-rebounded by a North Carolina team that came in with losses to Belmont and UAB. We did see the Tar Heels beat # 3 Louisville at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Connecticut so we knew that they were capable of the upset.
On Wednesday night Carolina was hungry for another huge win. The Tar Heels out-rebounded the Spartans 49-38 with 16 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end. The offensive rebounding, combined with UNC capturing almost every loose ball, led to many easy baskets and kept the Spartans behind on the scoreboard all night.
With the score tied at 32-32 at half time both teams came out firing in the second half exchanging fast break points and three pointers. Spartan senior point guard Keith Appling would tie the game at 49 with a deep three but MSU would never again threaten the Heels. UNC (5-2) would go on a 16-3 run punctuated by a dunk by center Kennedy Meeks, this combined with solid free throw shooting down the stretch by freshmen guard Nate Britt (7-of-8 FT’s) sealed the victory. The Tar Heels came in shooting only 60% from the line this season but knocked down 19-of-27 (71%) free throw attempts as the Tar Heels, who never trailed, beat the Spartans 79-65.
North Carolina was led by 6’9, 290 pound freshmen sensation Meeks, who came off the bench to score 15 points to go along with his 7 rebounds. Meeks has dropped at least 30 pounds from when we saw him at the Jordan Brand Classic in New York in April and will be getting more minutes the better he gets into shape. He had a double-double in limited minutes against Louisville. Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige added 13 points for the Heels. Michigan State (7-1) was led by 17 points from sophomore Gary Harris while 6’10 senior Adreian Payne knocked down 16 to go along with his 8 rebounds. Payne was in and out of the lineup in the second half as he was suffering from muscle cramps, and looked uncomfortable running the court the last part of the game.
Derek LeFevre is a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball.