Coming out of the media timeout, Iona continued to rely on 3-point shots to get the job done. The Gaels hit two more shots from deep to take a 15-10 lead with 12:30 remaining in the first half.
UNC responded with a 8-0 run as White converted a layup, Kenny Williams and Nassir Little each connected on their first baskets of the game and Luke Maye added two free throws to give North Carolina a 18-15 lead.
North Carolina has given Iona plenty of open looks from 3-point range, and the Gaels are knocking them down. It’s allowed Iona to stay in the game. At a timeout with 5:56 to play, the game was tied at 27-27.
Less than a minute later, Iona had knocked down two more 3-pointers to take a 33-27 advantage.
At the final media timeout of the half, the Gaels maintained a six-point advantage thanks to a 9-18 clip from 3-point range. Meanwhile, UNC managed to hit just three of 11 shots from deep.
A quiet first half from North Carolina’s veterans — Maye, Williams and Johnson — has hurt the Tar Heels’ cause. With only one 20 minutes left to extend their collegiate careers, the trio will need to increase their production after the break.
On the strength of its 10-21 shooting from 3-point range, Iona took a 38-33 lead over North Carolina into the break.
Out of the intermission, UNC looked like a different team. Just 2:30 into the second half, North Carolina had hit four of its first six shots, including a Johnson 3-pointer and layup, to take a 44-41 advantage.
That lead quickly grew to eight points by the 14:58 mark after a Maye jumper, a Williams free throw and a Garrison Brooks slam dunk.
By the second media timeout of the half, UNC’s lead ballooned to 16 points at 63-47 after the team hit 12 of its first 18 shots in the period. Johnson led the way with eight early second-half points.
Who stood out?
Little was a key piece of North Carolina’s offensive production Friday night. The first-year had perhaps his best game since playing Elon in November. Little accounted for 8 of UNC’s first-half 33 points at a time when the rest of the Tar Heels were struggling. He continued his scoring in the second half, pouring in (x) points on drives to the basket, and-1s and a dunk in transition.
When was it decided?
The Tar Heels were a different team in the second half. UNC came out sharper on offense, and made a concerted effort to get the ball inside, where it had its biggest advantage. It also tightened up on the defensive end, limiting the looks Iona had from 3-point range.
At 13:08, North Carolina held an 8-point lead. On a possession that featured excellent ball movement, Johnson knocked down a corner 3. The basket extended UNC’s lead to 11 and forced Iona into a timeout. From there, UNC continued to pull away and cruised to the win.
Why does it matter?
While UNC was sluggish in the first half, a return to form in the second half put UNC clear of the danger of a historic upset. A well rounded scoring effort, plus the emergence of Nassir Little bode well for North Carolina in the coming rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
When do they play next?
North Carolina next plays No. 9 seed Washington, who beat No. 8 seed Utah State, 78-61 Friday night. The pair will play Sunday at a time yet to be announced for a spot in the Sweet 16.
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