UNC rallies from a 12-point halftime deficit for a second straight game but again can’t finish the job

By R.L. Bynum

With so many young players, you knew that North Carolina was going to endure some rough nights early in the season, and the Tar Heels have learned a few tough lessons in the last two games.

For the second consecutive game, North Carolina trailed by 16 in the first half and faced a 12-point halftime deficit. Just like against Texas, the Tar Heels made a run and a game of it. And, once again, this mostly inexperienced team couldn’t finish the job.

The No. 16 Tar Heels (3–2) put up a fight but No. 3 Iowa (4–0) used a 14–2 second-half run to pull away for a 90–83 victory Tuesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa.

“I’m not into moral victories, but I think we’re getting better,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “But at the start of the game, we just didn’t defend the way we had talked about and the way we worked on.”

The Tar Heels were 13 of 20 from the floor (65%) in the first 10:08 of the second half, outscoring Iowa 35-22.

A layup with 9:30 left by Andrew Platek, who scored 10 points and made two 3-pointers, gave the Tar Heels a brief 68–67 lead. But Iowa scored the next 14 points and coasted from there.

Unlike in the 69–67 loss to Texas in the Maui Invitational championship game, UNC didn’t have a shot to win the game in the end. The Tar Heels were 5 of 13 from the floor and 4 of 9 from the free-throw line in the final 9:38. 

“In the middle of the second half, we make a great run and then we miss a key boxout two or three times,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of things that we’ve got to get better at. I love my team. They’re a wonderful group of kids. But they’ve got to get tougher.”

The bad starts against good teams are something the Tar Heels know they need to stop.

“Everyone’s got to bring their all straight out the gate at the start of the game and you can’t let up,” said freshman guard RJ Davis, who had nine of his 12 points in the second half. “It’s just early in the season. We have a lot of potential, so, for us we have to fix these mistakes and not let them happen.”

UNC freshman point guard Caleb Love, shown on the way to a second-half dunk in the top photo, finished with 11 points, four rebounds, six assists and four turnovers.

There was a lot to like offensively with season-highs of 80 points and 44.7% shooting from the floor. But that was countered by Iowa putting up season-highs for a UNC opponent with 93 points and 44.7% shooting.

Early in the game, UNC many times settled for jump shots instead of getting the ball inside. Garrison Brooks scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half and the Tar Heels scored 24 of their 42 inside points in the second half.

“You’ve got to go to the rim,” Brooks said. “I think most of your points came at the rim at the beginning of the second half. That’s something that we should have taken advantage of at the beginning of the game.”

A big problem for Carolina is one that the program has had for years: defending the 3-point field goal. The Hawkeyes were 17 of 40 to tie the UNC school record for 3-pointers by an opponent, matching Auburn’s total in the 2019 NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal.

“They move the ball very well and got open looks,” said Davis, who dished out eight assists. “There was a little miscommunication on a couple of switches on screens.”

Many times, UNC defenders overhelped on defense and were fooled by shot-fakes, which made it easier for Iowa to get open perimeter shots.

Jordan Bohannon led the Hawkeyes with 24 points and seven 3-pointers, CJ Fredrick had 21 points and five 3-pointers and Joe Wiskamp collected 19 points and seven 3-pointers.

It was the first time in program history that three opponent players made five or more 3-pointers in a game. The last time two opponent players made five or more 3-pointers in a game was in the 2010 NIT victory over William and Mary.

“We didn’t guard the 3-point shooter,” Williams said. “And if you go by our defensive principles that we do every single day, then we wouldn’t have allowed those 3-point shots and they happen to make a bunch of them.”

North Carolina’s Day’Ron Sharpe collected 13 points, six rebounds and two steals in 14 minutes Tuesday night.

The tall UNC frontcourt held senior Iowa center Luka Garza to 16 points, but he had 14 rebounds and four blocks and had plenty of help from his guards.

“I feel like every game we get better,” said UNC freshman Day’Ron Sharpe, who had 13 points, six rebounds and two steals. “Last game against Texas, they hit us in the mouth early and we kind of pushed back. And this game, we started better than we started off against Texas. But we have to learn how to play better and better every day.”

UNC is trying to find an opponent to replace Elon after COVID-19 issues with the Phoenix’s program forced the game to be postponed. If that doesn’t happen, the Tar Heels aren’t scheduled to play until their Dec. 19 CBS Sports Classic matchup in Cleveland against Ohio State.

No. 3 Iowa 93, No. 16 UNC 80

Photos courtesy of Iowa Athletics

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