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UNC’s hardest punch not enough in their 80-93 loss to Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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After putting up a huge fight in the second half, the Hawkeyes steamrolled the Tar Heels to improve to 4-0

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Losses like the one that UNC suffered tonight against Iowa are really hard to swallow for multiple reasons. Reason #1: nobody is used to Iowa being this good. Reason #2: despite having a really young team, the Tar Heels made a major comeback in the second half only to have the rug yanked from under them. Reason #3: the rug was being yanked by not only the Hawkeyes, but by some questionable calls that put the Heels in major foul trouble. Give credit to Iowa, they are indeed a legit national contender, but one has to wonder what this game would look like if it were to occur in March.

Now that I basically wrote the ending first, let’s go back to the beginning Quentin Tarantino-style. Iowa opened the game firing on all cylinders, knocking down multiple three-pointers to jump out to an 11-2 lead. After R.J. Davis and Caleb Love did what they could to get some kind of offensive rhythm started, Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp nailed multiple three-pointers to push Iowa to a 25-9 lead. UNC spent the rest of the half playing catchup, and somewhat closed the gap before the final minute in the half. On what was an important final shot of the first half, CJ Frederick nailed a three-pointer to send the Hawkeyes into the half ahead 31-43.

In the second half a very different Carolina team stepped onto the floor. The Heels started playing with a level of intensity and confidence that we hadn’t really seen yet this year, attacking the rim with a pair of dunks from Garrison Brooks and Caleb Love, Leaky Black got to the rim a for a pair of layups, and Armando Bacot joined in as well. Iowa called timeout as their lead dwindled to just a seven-point advantage, but the Heels kept their foot on the gas once play resumed. UNC found themselves down 54-55 before Luka Garza finally started to get going. Brooks, Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Walker Kessler had done a great job on him to that point, but foul trouble started to cause major problems.

Eventually UNC would take the lead 68-67 with 9:25 left in the game, but Jordan Bohannon nailed a three-pointer to put Iowa up by two and the Hawkeyes never looked back. Brooks, Bacot, and Sharpe all ended up with four fouls apiece, and Bacot would eventually foul out. In the final five minutes of the game, UNC only scored four more points to close things out. The foundation of UNC’s game plan had crumbled, and with that their chances to take down a top-five team.

When looking at what went wrong, it easily starts with the defense. While the Heels did an admirable job against a veteran team, it was apparent early on that they didn’t really need to play help defense on Garza. Yes, he got going in a sizable way in the second half so one could argue that it was necessary, but the three-pointers that Bohannon and Wieskamp were draining were the true problems. In basketball we love to discuss various ratios, but there’s one that is hard to survive in college basketball, and that is only making six three-pointers while the other team makes 17.

The other issue in this game was a combination of things. The referees in this game gave quite a long leash to Iowa when they were on offense, particularly in the paint. There were a number of calls on Carolina’s bigs that were suspect at best, and it undoubtedly changed the momentum in this game. The disappointing aspect of all of this is that UNC didn’t test Garza early in the game on defense, because if they had surely the refs would have given him the same treatment that they got. Of course I say this all in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, but it’s still reasonable to wonder what would’ve happened if they had matched his physicality.

At the end of the day, you have to give credit to Iowa. After playing a soft schedule to start the season, they took down a young, but tough team to continue their undefeated streak. As for the Tar Heels, hopefully more lessons will be taken from yet another game against yet another veteran basketball team. Next up on the schedule, No. 24 Ohio State, is also undefeated so far this season. Hopefully UNC will be able to regroup, smooth some things out, and earn their first win against a ranked team this season.