All night long, Michigan State used dribble penetration to create open looks against the UNC defense. (AP Photo/ Craig Mitchelldyer)

Carolina lost the way it will lose again this season.

The Tar Heels are a work in progress, despite opening with five straight wins. They lost to tougher fourth-ranked Michigan State in an ugly manner for two reasons, one expected and another that would be fatal in almost any game moving forward.

Carolina’s three freshmen big men combined to shoot one for 11 from the floor for two points, although combining for nine rebounds. We will probably see more of that against the tougher foes to follow. They will be counted on much more to retrieve missed shots on both ends than score the basketball.

But top three scorers — Joel Berry, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams — clanged 25 of their 31 field goal attempts and made only 1 of 10 three-pointers, as the team whiffed on 18 of 19 tries from behind the arc. That cannot happen if UNC is to win any game against a quality opponent. As advertised, the Heels’ experience and strength is from the perimeter, not the post.

Roy Williams said his freshmen played like freshmen and the rest of the team wasn’t much better, and he correctly added he coached a pretty sorry game. He did very little to shake his players out of their doldrums, and the result was a rout by the Spartans.

Obviously, Carolina cannot survive such a total collapse. The team will learn some valuable lessons from the embarrassing defeat. Michigan State played its expected rugged game underneath, out-rebounding the Tar Heels 52-36, mostly since there were so many missed shots to claim on the UNC end.

The reason this was Tom Izzo’s first win over Williams in eight games since ol’ Roy returned to Chapel Hill is that Carolina has had Sparty’s number with better players underneath to offset Michigan State’s brawn. So all we can hope is that Brooks, Manley and Huffman get bigger and stronger and improve where they are really needed — rebounding.

Berry will get in a groove and be more consistent than shooting well one night and not so well the next. After leading the PK80 tournament in scoring after two games, Maye appeared guilty of too many bad or rushed shots. Kenny Williams — who may be a stout defender and surprising rebounder for a guard — needs to hit more than 1 of 7, pure and simple.

Roy Williams, and by now the team, know all this after the long flight back from Portland. You can look for them to play much better and beat Michigan Wednesday night in the Smith Center. The truth is often deceiving; the Heels aren’t as good as they looked in the first five games and aren’t as bad as they looked in the sixth.

That is the definition of a “work in progress.”