UNC Gets Back On Winning Track With Dominant Display

The No. 24 North Carolina men’s basketball team used Kennedy Meeks’ team-leading 18 points to down UNC-Greensboro , 79-56, Tuesday night inside the Greensboro Coliseum and improve to 7-3 on the season.

With the loss, the Spartans dropped to 4-7 overall.

***Listen to the story***

The Tar Heels sprung out to a quick 16-4 lead with 11:21 to go in the first half and never looked back from there with tenacious defense and efficient offense.

UNC head coach Roy Williams was in good spirits, calmly instructing his players on the sideline – seemingly in full teaching mode with the game well in hand. But the UNC Hall of Famer wasn’t pleased with everything. Coach Williams says his team’s 17 turnovers were discouraging.

“We made too many turnovers in the second half, but Kennedy [Meeks] and Joel [James] sort of dominated. We turned it over 17 times. Again, that’s too many turnovers,” Coach Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

Every UNC player appeared fully engaged and locked in for the midweek tilt and even though Brice Johnson got into foul trouble, he stayed on the floor and produced later on.

Junior forward Joel James led the way for UNC in the first half with a season-high 8 points as Carolina headed to the locker room with a commanding 40-19 advantage.

James tied a career-high in scoring Tuesday night (UNC Athletics)

James tied a career-high in scoring Tuesday night (UNC Athletics)

Kennedy Meeks has been carrying the scoring load this season (Nick Vitali)

Kennedy Meeks has been carrying the scoring load this season (Nick Vitali)

In the second half, Meeks started to flex his muscles a bit more, flashing some athletic moves around the rim, but the sophomore says he wasn’t as happy with the defensive performance in the final 20 minutes.

“I think we held them to like 27-percent [shooting] in the first half, but we kind of let off with the 44-percent [shooting] in the second half. We just have to get better each day. Now we have to focus on Ohio State,” Meeks says.

Sophomore Isaiah Hicks provided some quality minutes off the bench, tallying 8 points and 6 rebounds. Junior guard Marcus Paige continued to struggle with his shot, missing his first five attempts from the field. But Paige says he believes his shots will start falling soon.

“I mean, it’s a little frustrating, but honestly, they felt good today. Some of these games earlier in the year have felt weird, but they all felt really good tonight. They were all back rim and right on. It was a little disappointing, but I’m not worried about it at all. The shot feels good,” Paige says.

The under-manned Spartans could do little to threaten the more talented Tar Heels, but former UNC player Wes Miller could use the contest as a measuring stick for his program going forward.

But as for UNC, the game was a chance to exhale and collect itself on the heels of a difficult loss at top-ranked Kentucky and to prepare for the impending challenge ahead.

Coach Williams is relishing an opportunity for his team to hit the practice courts hard this week. With no exams or classes to worry about, his players’ schedules are free.

“Now we get the chance to have some practices that will hopefully be long, long and long. We have no class – no classes to go to, not ‘class’. We’ve got a lot of ‘class’, but we need to get some work done the next couple days,” Coach Williams says.

Next up for the Tar Heels comes a Saturday meeting with the No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.



Tar Heels Look To Stop Spartans Tuesday Night

The No. 24 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 6-3 on the season, will look to recover from a difficult loss at top-ranked Kentucky with a comfortable victory at UNC-Greensboro Tuesday night at 7 p.m inside the Greensboro Coliseum.

***Listen to the story***

The Tar Heels will be facing a few familiar faces on the UNC-G bench Tuesday night.

Spartan skipper Wes Miller and assistant Jackie Manuel both played on the 2005 national championship-winning squad coached by none other than Roy Williams.

But don’t expect Coach Williams to ease up on his former players turned coaches, especially after being outplayed Saturday at Rupp Arena.

Roy Williams showing frustration (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams showing frustration (Todd Melet)

“They were far more superior on the defensive end than our offense was. I thought they dictated what we did on the offensive end with their athleticism, their quickness, strength and size. We didn’t do a very good job of scoring in the half court,” Coach Williams says.

The Tar Heels have plenty of room for improvement. Coach Williams says careless turnovers, excessive fouling and lack of physicality doomed UNC’s chances last weekend.

“I thought two big keys for us was the number of turnovers and the fact that we wanted to play without fouling. We let them shoot 31 free throws, and I’m not saying that’s the referees. I said ‘we’. They were much more aggressive getting the back to the basket. It’s a physical game. They played better and coached better,” Coach Williams says.

Junior guard Marcus Paige, who eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau at Kentucky, seemingly found his shot in the second half against the Wildcats, finding the basket from behind the arc to keep UNC within shouting distance.

But Coach Williams says he needs to be a more consistent offensive weapon for the Tar Heels.

“He made some shots. We’ve been talking about his shot a little bit. There’s nothing mechanically wrong with his shot, but he probably needs to get his feet set a little bit more. We need him to shoot the ball like that, but we need some other guys to step and make shots also. You’re not going to beat Kentucky at Kentucky when they’re a real good team shooting 38 percent in the second half,” Coach Williams says.

Marcus Paige makes a play at the basket (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige makes a play at the basket (Todd Melet)

UNC’s offensive efficiency has tended to improve in the second halves of games this season. A frustrated Paige says the team needs to find a way to put two halves of clean basketball together.

“I don’t think we need to rely on me, but I think I need to be a focal part of what we do in both halves. The coaches have talked about that. We don’t screen or move enough in the first half,” Paige says. “That’s why we take bad shots and have turnovers. When we settle down and run our stuff, the guys who we want to have the ball are touching the ball; we’re getting inside and also creating opportunities for me.  We just need to run our stuff better.”

As for UNC-G, the Spartans sport a disappointing 4-6 record on the young season, but they’re coming off an 80-79 road win at East Tennessee State.

The Tar Heels don’t have much head-to-head history against the Spartans, facing off for just the second time ever. UNC won the only previous meeting by an 81-50 margin in 2013.


Deeper, Stronger No. 1 Kentucky Handles Tar Heels 84-70

Boasting superior size, speed and strength, the Kentucky Wildcats handed UNC an 84-70 setback on Saturday in a men’s non-conference basketball game at Rupp Arena.

Willie Cauley-Stein starred for the No. 1 Wildcats in a brilliant all-around game with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals and a pair of blocks. Devin Booker came off the bench to match Cauley-Stein in points, while Aaron Harrison added 14 for the 11-0 Wildcats.

No. 21 UNC, to its credit, hung around when it looked like the Tar Heels could be blown out in a few spots but ultimately fell to the deeper squad in dropping to 6-3 overall.

Brice Johnson led the Tar Heels with 15 points, while Marcus Paige heated up in the second half and finished with 14 including a 4 of 6 effort from behind the arc.

UNC’s best stretch came on an 8-0 run, capped by a Kennedy Meeks tip in that moved the Tar Heels within single digits at 66-57 late in the second half.

With just under five minutes remaining Cauley-Stein had a slam dunk and was the successful oop in an alley from teammate Trey Liles as the Wildcats finally pulled away for good.

The Tar Heels tried to play catch-up throughout and had their moments, as when Paige silenced crowd with a trey four minutes into the second half, but it only cut the ‘Cats lead to 59-43.

The biggest differences in the first half came from behind the arc, where the Wildcats were 6 of 12, and at the free throw line as they connected on 13 of 17 attempts. Kentucky continually went to the basket, continuing that trend in the second half, and finished 23 of 31 at the stripe.

The Tar Heels had just three attempts from long range. connecting on one and were 3 of 4 from the charity stripe as their lack of physical play cost the Heels.

Kentucky had 29 points from its backcourt compared to just 6 for UNC and also committed four fewer turnovers (6).

The Wildcats 15 points bulge at the break (49-34) would have been bigger if an Aaron Harrison long distance three had not rimmed out at the buzzer.

Still, Kentucky was in firm control as it was throughout the contest, shooting a blistering 56.3 percent from the field, compared to a decent 45 percent mark for the Heels.

A more serious concern for the Tar Heels was head coach Roy Williams, who appeared dazed for a few moments during the second half. It wasn’t clear if he had slipped on the floor or perhaps just suffered a dizzy spell or something akin to that.

Williams appeared to be OK when congratulating Kentucky players at the end of the contest, however and there was no further report if his health was an issue immediately after the game.


Underdog Tar Heels Take On Top-Ranked Wildcats

The No. 21 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 6-2 on the season, faces its toughest test of the season Saturday afternoon inside Rupp Arena. The No. 1 and undefeated Kentucky Wildcats are a force to be reckoned with.

***Listen to the story***

The head-to-head series between the winningest and third-winningest college basketball programs continues with the 33rd meeting this weekend.

UNC head coach Roy Williams says Brice Johnson’s dominant play on the boards will need to become a consistent feature of the team if the Tar Heels are going to take down elite opponents like Kentucky.

Johnson will need to physical Saturday (Todd Melet)

Johnson will need to physical Saturday (Todd Melet)

“We need Brice and Kennedy [Meeks] to rebound the ball like that. We still got to do a better job rebounding and boxing out. We were into it mentally. We’ve got to have that same kind of attitude every night,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams says he really got upset at Johnson for his poor play before his explosive game against ECU last weekend. But he says, at the end of the day, it’s Johnson who needs to demand more out of himself than anybody else.

“I’m getting to be old. I can’t stay mad all the dadgum time. He’s got be able to do that himself. His rebounding today [vs. ECU] was really impressive. He rebounded the ball in a crowd and didn’t act like a little wimp. He did better things defensively too. It does gnaw at me, but I want it to gnaw at him. If it gnaws at him, the results are a whole heck of a lot better,” Coach Williams says.

One talented player who still appears to be waiting in the wings is sophomore Isaiah Hicks. Coach Williams says he needs more from the 230-pound forward.

“I think he [Hicks] listened when I was telling those guys on the bench that we don’t need big guys to shoot jump shots. He took the ball to the basket. We need Isaiah to be a big-time player for us,” Coach Williams says.

Many have discussed the possibility of a smaller UNC starting lineup that would include two de facto point guards – Nate Britt and Marcus Paige. Would the Tar Heels ever consider such a lineup?

Assistant coach C.B. McGrath doesn’t rule it out.

“We talk about all those kind of things. Whether Nate’s played well enough to go into the starting lineup and move Marcus to the two, I don’t know. If the game’s on the line, Nate’s playing well and Marcus is shooting the ball, we’ll probably have Nate and Marcus in the game at the same time,” McGrath says.

Coach Williams isn’t opposed to applying the heat to his players. He’s continually called out the big men on UNC’s roster, pleading for them to step up.

“I’ve said the big guys have to step up. When they step up and be really big-time players, we’re really a good basketball team. That’s putting a lot of pressure on guys, but heck, it’s college basketball at the highest level. If you want to be good, your best players have to step up and play,” Coach Williams says.

John Calipari and Cauley-Stein (Chris Reynolds)

John Calipari and Cauley-Stein (Chris Reynolds)

The Tar Heels will definitely have their hands full against UK head coach John Calipari’s uber-talented roster that rivals an NBA team for size and length.

Coach Calipari has so much depth he employs a ‘platoon system’ that consists of shuffling alternate lineups on and off the floor to wear down opponents and get all of his potential NBA draft picks a chance to shine for scouts.

UNC junior forward Brice Johnson says juggling final exams doesn’t make the preparation any easier, but he’s confident his teammates will be fired up for the showdown Saturday.

“I have all week to prepare for these tests, and we have all week to prepare for Kentucky. We just have to even them out as much as we can, but put a little more into the academic side than the basketball side. By Saturday, we’ll be ready for it,” Johnson says.

UNC leads the all-time series 23-13 and won the most recent encounter, 82-77, in 2013.

But this time around, the up-and-down Tar Heels will be playing a part they’re not too familiar with – as heavy underdogs against the near-consensus national championship pick.


Oakes’ Outlook: Bowls, Roles, and Noles


And so the Tar Heels’ disappointing 2014 campaign will come to a close in Motown. It’s a fitting end (a dreary and cold one in the Midwest at that) for Carolina in a season that began with its head coach, Larry Fedora, proclaiming “it’s time.” Time for what, exactly, I’m not sure, but it certainly wasn’t a trip to the Quick Lane Bowl to face the equally mediocre 7-5 Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Grab your tickets, folks! Get ‘em while they’re hot. I hear you can grab a pair of upper deck tickets for $75 each. After all, who doesn’t want to spend Christmas in Detroit?

The only one who might be excited about UNC’s bowl destination is Eric Ebron. The ex-Tar Heel turned Detroit Lion won’t have to travel far to watch his former teammates play. Enjoy, Ebron. I’m sitting this one out.

Photo courtesy of longshotblues.com

Photo courtesy of longshotblues.com



Strap yourselves in, Carolina fans. I’m setting the over/under for the number of times we hear the word “platoon” Saturday at 50. Place your bets!

If you haven’t heard, the Tar Heels head to Rupp Arena Saturday for a meeting with the No. 1 team in the land – the Kentucky Wildcats. I’m still waiting to hear back from John Calipari’s folks for an interview…then I can ask him which side he’d like on that over/under. He’s a betting man, right?

The real question in this game is whether the blue platoon or the white platoon gets more playing time. “What did you think about that platoon shift there? I don’t know, Calipari may have taken the blue platoon out a little too soon – they’re a more offensively-gifted platoon.” Just a taste.

But let’s face it: the result isn’t really in doubt. The margin of victory? Sure. UK is really good.

Just remember, we won’t be watching a war movie this weekend. This will be college basketball. It will be easy to confuse the two. You’ll be all “platooned” out when the final buzzer sounds around 2 p.m. Saturday.

FREE ADVICE: Get your earplugs ready.

Photo courtesy of fashiontimes.com

Photo courtesy of fashiontimes.com


Jimbo’s Genius

Has there ever been a more dominant team less appreciated (or, ummm….more disrespected) than Florida State?

29 straight victories. Defending national champions. Three-time defending ACC champions. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Tradition. Pageantry. Legends.

You can think whatever you’d like about Jameis Winston’s childishly foolish behavior off the field, but I choose to separate the product on the field from the transgressions off it.

And the product I’ve witnessed on the field since November 24th, 2012 (the last time they came out on the wrong end of a scoreboard) has been nothing short of spectacular.

And yet, as the Seminoles continued to rack up the victories this season, they began to slide down the College Football Playoff rankings. In effect, FSU was penalized for doing what? Winning. That’s downright laughable.

Dear committee members, I don’t envy your job. It’s a tough one, no doubt. But you’re missing the forest for the trees.

Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com

Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com

The goal of a game is to win. Score more than your opponent. Who’s done that better than FSU? Nobody.

Flash only takes you so far. Substance prevails. FSU has plenty of that. But this year, at least, FSU isn’t sexy. Americans like sexy.

Perhaps that’s why each week, without fail, prognosticators, pundits and so-called experts pick the Noles to lose. This will be the week, they say. The week they won’t find a way to escape.

Yes, some day, maybe very soon, it will all be over. The Seminoles will lose. Most people will be happy.

But until then, I choose to give credit where credit is due. I’ll embrace the gritty determination, the steely composure under pressure and the ability to flip the switch. I admire it all. Why hate? Appreciate!

This year’s FSU team undoubtedly has more cracks in the armor than last year’s dominant display of perfection – in every phase of the game. The defense has holes. Jameis is more errant with the football. But in a way, to me, that makes the 2014 Noles even more impressive.

They’ve persevered. They overcame off-the-field issues. They survived the media onslaught. They’ve taken everybody’s best shot each and every week. They’ve been hated, and they’ve handled that too.

Photo courtesy of ngngsports.com

Photo courtesy of ngngsports.com

Sometimes you forget that these are 18, 19 and 20-year-old kids.

It’s far easier to get to the top than to stay there. Everybody wants to knock you off the pedestal, especially if you’re Jameis Winston – the guy everybody loves to hate. So what’s the magic formula to the Seminoles’ ability to stave off all challengers? There are lots of ingredients.

But the man stirring that potent concoction is Jimbo Fisher.

I still remember sitting a few feet away from the FSU head coach back in July at the ACC preseason media event in Greensboro.

There was something in the glint of his eyes and the infectious conviction in his words that made me a believer. Right then and there. Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

He let me take a peek behind the curtain. He talked for over 20 minutes on this thing called the “attitude of domination.” He discussed how in order to be special, you have to do something different that others aren’t willing to do. The throngs of national media members listened to the man preach.

Some coaches are X’s and O’s guys. And yes, Jimbo’s no slouch in that department. But I’m convinced that what sets him apart is not his football expertise.

No, Jimbo’s a philosopher. Behind those dadgum-its and goofy smiles, there lies a resolute belief system for success. I see how he gets his Noles to buy in.

We’ve grown so accustomed to Jimbo being asked the same questions by the TV sideline reporters after each and every thrilling come-from-behind victory this season. One of those questions is always, “How do you guys continue to come up with these fourth quarter comeback wins?”

Jimbo’s regular response? “It’s who we are.”

That resonates with me. And more importantly, it’s resonated in the hearts and minds of his players.

Through it all, the Seminoles have continued to live up to the University’s motto – UNCONQUERED. 29 and counting…

But yet again, everybody and their mother will be picking Florida State to lose when it takes the field in Pasadena against the mighty juggernaut that is Oregon in the national semifinals.

That’s just fine with Jimbo and the Noles. In fact, they like it that way.


Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3


Brice Johnson Responds To Roy Williams’ Tough Challenge

The Carolina men’s basketball team’s toughness has been scrutinized this season, most notably, after ugly losses to Butler and Iowa. But junior forward Brice Johnson is doing his best to rectify the situation.

***Listen to the story***

Johnson’s explanation for his 19 points and career-high 17 rebounds in Sunday’s rout over ECU is simple. He played more minutes.

“For one, I wasn’t in foul trouble all night. That was the biggest thing. I could get in the groove and was able to stay on the floor a good period of time. I attribute it to that. The last couple games, I’ve been in foul trouble,” Johnson says.

Brice Johnson recorded a breakout performance Sunday (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson recorded a breakout performance Sunday (Todd Melet)

ECU head coach and former Carolina basketball player Jeff Lebo says he was pulling hard for a UNC win last Wednesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge if only to avoid an angry opponent for his Pirates.

UNC head coach Roy Williams agrees. The Tar Heels were ticked off with their performance against the Hawkeyes.

“Mentally, we were more into the game. Jeff [Lebo] and I talked before the game. He was pulling for us hard Wednesday night, because he’s a North Carolina graduate, but also he didn’t want us to be as mad as we were. I told him I agreed after the game. We had much more attention to detail today. In the first half, we had one turnover,” Coach Williams says.

That clean of a game is an encouraging sign for Coach Williams if the Tar Heels can keep it up, and that’s a big if, especially with the No. 1 team in the nation looming large on Saturday.

But for now, Johnson says he’s eager to continue stepping up as a key big man inside for Carolina. His 17 rebounds, the most since Tyler Zeller’s 22 in 2012, jumped off the stat sheet Sunday, but Johnson says he wants more.

“Well, I wanted 20, but it didn’t happen that way. It’s good I could help my team any way I could. That was the biggest way I could help my team. I’m really happy about that,” Johnson says.

Coach Williams credits what he calls one of the toughest practices his team’s ever faced as a key contributor to the focus and improved play last weekend.

Roy Williams doesn't like what he sees all the time (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams doesn’t like what he sees all the time (Todd Melet)

“It did simmer for another next 24 hours. We got after it as hard as anybody on this team has ever had at practice the day before a game. You can’t do the things rebounding-wise or the things one-on-one and selfishly like we did Wednesday night and be a good basketball team,” Coach Williams says.

Johnson’s explosive game didn’t surprise his coach. The Hall of Famer has thrown the gauntlet down all season, expecting his post players to dominate for the Tar Heels. Not surprisingly, when they’ve done so, UNC has fared well.

“I’ve said that since the start of the year. We have a couple of big guys that have to step up. When they step up and be big-time players, we’re really a good basketball team. That’s putting a lot of pressure on guys, but heck, it’s college basketball at the highest level. If you want to be good, your best player has to step up and play,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams and Tar Heel fans everywhere will certainly be hoping the big men can answer the bell in hostile Rupp Arena this weekend. They’ll have to or risk getting embarrassed.


UNC Dominates ECU In Season Best Shooting Percentage

The No. 12 North Carolina men’s basketball team dominated East Carolina 108-64 Sunday afternoon at the Dean E. Smith Center.

With the win, UNC improves to 6-2 and ECU drops to 4-5.

Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto led the Tar Heels with each scoring 19 points. Johnson led the team in rebounding and set a career high of 17 rebounds. Johnson’s rebounding record surpassed any Tar Heel from last season and this current season.

“We feel a heck of a lot better than we did Wednesday night,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says. “I think we invested a heck of a lot more these last couple of days. Mentally, we were more into the game.”

*Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks*

UNC came off a tough loss against Iowa Wednesday night with a season-low 27.9 percent from the floor, the lowest field goal percentage in a game since 2011. In an amazing turn of events, Carolina had a season-high shooting percentage against ECU, going 60 percent from the floor. Freshman Joel Berry shot 100 percent going 4-4.

“Yesterday we got after it probably as hard as anybody on this team has ever had to practice the day before a game,” Coach Williams says. “But you can’t do the things rebounding-wise and you can’t do the things one-on-one and selfishly like we did Wednesday night to be a good basketball team.”

UNC vs ECU 045Coach Williams says it was the little details such as fewer turnovers that led to a well-played game against ECU. UNC only had one turnover in the first half.

North Carolina led 48-29 at halftime on the strength of a 23-5 run beginning midway through the first half. Johnson rounded out the first half scoring 8 out of North Carolina’s final 10 points, 6 of which came after his own offensive rebounds.

Kennedy Meeks added 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Nate Britt finished with 10 points.

“We still have to do a better job rebounding and a better job boxing out, but we shared the ball. Twenty-seven assists for us shooting 60 percent for the game and, again, we were into it mentally and we got to have that same kind of attitude every night,” Coach Williams says.

UNC will continue its nonconference slate Saturday away from home against Kentucky at 12pm.



UNC Hopes To Regain Stride Versus ECU

The North Carolina men’s basketball team, 5-2 on the season, looks to recover from a 60-55 loss to Iowa when the Tar Heels welcome a 4-4 East Carolina squad to the Smith Center Sunday for a 3 p.m. tipoff.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for fifth-year ECU head coach Jeff Lebo, who played at UNC from 1985-1989 and is second in Carolina history in career three-point accuracy.

Paige shoots a jumper (Todd Melet)

Paige shoots a jumper (Todd Melet)

UNC sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks has five double-digit rebounding games already this season. To put  that in perspective, Meeks recorded five total in his entire freshman year campaign.

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige will attempt to extend his 20-game streak of knocking down at least one three-point field goal.

Bu the main thing Carolina head coach Roy Williams will be watching out for is his team’s ability to make the easy shots around the basket. The Tar Heels squandered a bundle of short-range opportunities around the rim in their ACC-Big Ten Challenge defeat Wednesday against the Hawkeyes.

The Pirates, meanwhile, will be searching for their first win over the Tar Heels, trailing the all-time series 3-0.

Fans are encouraged to bring toys for the Toys for Tots collection outside the Smith Center. The toy drive benefits needy Orange County children who would otherwise go without any gifts this Christmas.


Tar Heels Miss Mark, Fall Flat To Hawkeyes

Additional reporting by Avery Trendel

The No. 6 North Carolina men’s basketball team dropped a tough 60-55 decision in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge , losing to the feisty Iowa Hawkeyes Wednesday evening inside the Dean Smith Center to fall to 5-2 on the season.

With the win, the Hawkeyes improved to 6-2 overall and 3-1 all-time against the Tar Heels.

Kennedy Meeks led the scoring charge for the Tar Heels with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Mike Gesell led the way for the Hawkeyes with 15 points.

Poor shooting, at a 28-percent clip, and an inability to finish around the rim, doomed the Tar Heels. The 55 point total was the lowest by UNC this season and the lowest since a 57-45 loss at Syracuse on Jan. 11, 2014.

“Yeah. They [Iowa] wanted it more than we did and that’s a sorry thing to say. It’s a sad thing to say. We gave up 12 points on offensive rebounds…[Iowa had] 16 offensive rebounds in the second half. And, again, we still had opportunities, and we missed some opportunities. Even at the end, we were trying to get two guys to go screen for Marcus, and both of them start and stop, start and stop. It was almost comedic, but it wasn’t funny to me,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

Coach Williams led the Tar Heels with a heavy heart Wednesday night. His good friend and Chapel Hill icon Ted Seagroves passed away Tuesday, but Coach Williams says he needs “to do a better job coaching [his] team.”

Paige shoots a jumper (Todd Melet)

Paige shoots a jumper (Todd Melet)

Carolina’s abysmal field goal percentage was the lowest since a 27.6 percent night against Georgia Tech on Jan. 6, 2011. Iowa, meanwhile, finished with a flourish, scoring the final 10 second-chance points in the game to close out the Tar Heels.

“I think every team needs to be able to go on the road and beat somebody of this caliber. I came into the season feeling like we have a good team. I think we have played well. We haven’t shot the ball well but I’m really proud of how we have defended, particularly today on the glass in the second half,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery says.

Despite shooting a mere 27 percent from the floor in the first half, the Tar Heels trailed  by only two points thanks to their domination on the boards.  UNC led in overall rebounding 26-15, but held a commanding 15-1 advantage in offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes of action.

Marcus Paige got involved in the offense early and opened the scoring proceedings for the Tar Heels with a drained three-pointer, but it was Iowa that jumped out to a 7-3 lead just over two minutes into the contest.

At the 15:58 mark, the Hawkeyes held a 9-7 advantage thanks to some hot shooting north of the 50 percent clip. From there, the two squads traded blows on both sides of the floor.

At the under-12 timeout, UNC trailed Iowa 18-14. The visitors were shooting 67 percent from the floor to outpace the Tar Heels, who were making a meager 33 percent of their attempts.

It was a 'green out' inside the Smith Center (Todd Melet)

It was a ‘green out’ inside the Smith Center (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson picked up his third foul barely ten minutes into the game and promptly took a seat on the bench. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes continued to shoot the lights out of the ball with junior guard Mike Gesell with the hottest hand at 9 points.

But it was J.P. Tokoto’s athleticism that provided the spark to a Carolina rally down 27-19. The Tar Heels and the Smith Center crowd lit up as the home team pulled within two at 27-25 with just over five minutes to play in the first half.

At intermission, the Tar Heels trailed only by a pair of points despite miserable shooting. It was their dominance in the rebounding department that kept them close with the Hawkeyes.

UNC came out of the locker room on a 5-0 run to take a 34-31 lead briefly before Iowa junior guard Anthony Clemmons snared a three-point play after a Meeks foul.

But three Tar Heel turnovers handed back the momentum to the Hawkeyes and with it, a 36-34 edge with 15:48 to go.

Roy Williams argues with an official (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams argues with an official (Todd Melet)

Nate Britt knocked down a big three-pointer to ignite the Dean Dome crowd and close the deficit down to a single point. Johnson followed suit with a score, and when Meeks slammed one down with 12 minutes to play, the Tar Heels grabbed a 43-40 lead with the UNC faithful on their feet.

At the 7:09 mark, UNC maintained a 47-45 lead. Paige drained a clutch three shortly after to keep the offense clicking for Carolina, but the Hawkeyes were finding their way to the basket on the the other end and keeping up with the UNC attack.

With 3:54 to play, UNC was all locked up at 51-51 with Iowa. Two made free throws from Paige from there pushed UNC ahead 55-54, but Meeks fouled out on the ensuing possession to the boos of the crowd.

Gesell’s scoring drive inside drew a foul and pushed the Hawkeyes ahead by three with just over a minute remaining, and the Hawkeyes held on when a last-second Paige three ball rimmed out.


Next up for the reeling Tar Heels is a home meeting with the ECU Pirates this Sunday at 3 p.m.



Paige Meets Old Friends as Tar Heels Take On Hawkeyes

UNC junior point guard Marcus Paige is relishing the chance to combat some old friends from back home Wednesday night when the No. 12 Tar Heels, 5-1 on the season, welcome the 5-2 Iowa Hawkeyes inside the Smith Center for an ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup.

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Paige reflected back on his Iowa roots Tuesday afternoon at his press conference.

The Midwest native says he was a whisker away from committing to play for Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks.

“At the end of my sophomore year, I was very close. I went to Late Night at the Phog my sophomore year and talked to Coach Self a whole bunch of times. I was very close to committing, but my coaches and parents told me to be patient and get a feel for things more. Obviously, things changed the year following that,” Paige says.

Tar Heels cheer on from the sidelines (Nick Vitali)

Tar Heels cheer on from the sidelines (Nick Vitali)

They say patience is a virtue. And boy, UNC head coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels are certainly glad Paige listened to his parents’ advice.

Paige got that fateful phone call from Coach Williams and says he promptly freaked out. He had always been a huge Carolina basketball buff. But now, he got his turn to make some Tar Heel hardwood history himself.

Paige, the leading scorer and sparkplug for Carolina, wasted no time making an impact on the program. But now, he’s ready to host a visit from his home-state flagship school – the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Paige says he’s excited to show his old buddies where he goes to work each day in Chapel Hill.

“It will be cool. I like the fact that they’re coming down here. I’ve been home and know what it’s like. It’s cool to have them see what I go through every day, where I call home now and experience what it’s like to be at a North Carolina basketball game. Hopefully, we will come out on top, but it will be cool to compete against guys I consider really good friends,” Paige says.

For Coach Williams, the game is all business, and he expects a stern test from head coach Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes.

“When I’m looking at all those stats, it makes you think they’re more a team. That’s always the most difficult kind to play. Fran really does a nice job and has been around a long time. We know several of those kids. I tried to recruit Adam Woodbury,” Coach Williams says.

The Hall of Famer says the tape on Iowa shows a selfless, team-first bunch of Hawkeyes, and that concerns him.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery (Iowa Athletics)

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery (Iowa Athletics)

“The thing that worries you as a coach is when you see the ball move and five defensive players move. That tells you they’re pretty good defensively. On the offensive end, if you see guys doing the little things, setting screens or making cuts to get people out of the way for somebody else that means they’re playing as a team on the offensive end of the floor too,” Coach Williams says.

It can be a difficult dynamic going up against friends in the heat of competition, but Paige says he’s confident he won’t have any issues putting his game face on Wednesday night.

“I played against all of them in high school at some point. It’s kind of similar, but more people care and more people watch now that it’s a nationally-televised game at the highest level of college basketball. It will be the same thing, but it won’t be too hard to go at them because I know they’re going to try to come at me,” Paige says.

The Hawkeyes lead the overall head-to-head series with the Tar Heels 2-1, but UNC won the last meeting 106-92 in the 2004 Maui Invitational championship game.