Here we go again?
After coming out last season with inconsistent efforts into the month of January, the Tar Heels are once again struggling to put together solid games night in and night out. The latest example of it came against Iowa as 27.9% shooting doomed the Tar Heels to a 60-55 loss to the Hawkeyes at home.
There are a lot of ways this game could be unpacked but it really comes down to the shooting. In the loss to Butler a week ago, the Tar Heels shot poorly but did not rebound well on the way to a 74-66 loss in the Bahamas. For the first half of this game, UNC seemingly corrected the rebounding issue and after falling behind 27-19, tightened the screws defensively. After Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff hit a three to make it an eight point margin with 6:47 left, UNC held Iowa to 1-7 shooting, forced three turnovers for the remainder of the half to close withing 31-29 at the break. To that point UNC had dominated the boards on both ends but failed to capitalize with points.
The second half saw UNC mustered some slightly improved offense but not nearly enough to take advantage of the stellar defense. The Tar Heels shot just 8-27 after halftime, 2-10 from three and got almost zero offensive consistency. Foul trouble also played a significant role with Brice Johnson saddled with three in the first half and tentative for most of the second thanks in part to foul trouble With both Johnson and Kennedy Meeks in foul trouble Roy Williams lean a bit on Joel James and Jackson Simmons. That opened the door for Iowa's Adam Woodbury to get two easy baskets on consecutive possessions to knot the game at 47-47.
Marcus Paige's third three of the game put the Heels up 50-47 but the lead didn't last thanks to UNC's control of the defensive glass slipping away as the half wore on. However the critical moment came with the game tied at 51-51. Paige missed a jumper and Johnson, with position on the block, grabbed an offensive rebound, missed a layup, got his own rebound and missed a second layup. Johnson finished the game 1-7 with the majority of his six misses being shots at point blank range.
With the Heels clinging to a 55-54 lead, UNC failed to score again. Iowa closed the game going 4-5 from the line and getting a key three point play from Mike Gessell. Gessell entered the game 7-27 from two and 4-15 from three. Against the Heels he shot 6-10 overall and scored 16 points. Iowa, a 72% free throw shooting team, made 21-24 with two of their misses resulting in offensive rebounds.UNC did get one final shot to tie the game but Paige's rushed three was off the mark and the Hawkeyes won for a second straight game at the Dean Dome.
Meeks proved to be the sole bright spot with 15 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks on 6-8 shooting and 3-3 at the FT line. The Tar Heel free throw shooting was also good at 13-17 with J.P. Tokoto going 5-7. Paige was UNC's only other double figures scorer with 13 but shot 4-16 from the floor and 3-12 from three. Iowa finished the game shooting 32.7% from the floor and 3-20 from three. However a 21-13 advantage in made free throws and UNC's own failure to produce offensively doomed the Heels to their second loss of the season.
After beating UCLA and Florida, UNC had somewhat settled the questions regarding the loss to Butler. This loss only raises those questions again and has Roy Williams spending another Christmas season searching for answers