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Late-game implosion dooms UNC men's basketball against Iowa State, 70-65

UNC junior guard Caleb Love (2) shoots a free throw during the men's basketball game against Gardner-Webb on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the Dean Smith Center.

The North Carolina men's basketball team lost to the Iowa State Cyclones, 70-65, in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament on Friday.

What happened?

Caleb Grill made Caleb Love bite on a shot fake from outside the arc, then the Iowa State senior guard drained the open three for the first points of the game. Love responded with a baseline jumper down the court, but Grill blocked a Love three-point attempt just a few possessions later.

Coming out of the first media timeout, Love turned the ball over and Jaren Holmes made the transition lay-in to make the score 11-9 in favor of UNC. The Cyclones nearly tied the game soon after, but fifth-year wing Leaky Black blocked a cutting Hason Ward, and Love drew a foul and made both free throws to bring UNC's lead to four points.

Grill hit a three in response, but Bacot made a basket, Love hit a three and junior forward Puff Johnson stole the ball off the inbounds and made a contested floated to go up, 20-12. Grill hit another three, but Johnson made another impressive play to find an open Bacot down low for an easy dunk.

Grill hit yet another three off the dribble, his fourth, to cut his team's lead to six. Soon after, Holmes made back-to-back buckets and Grill made a transition lay-in after Love turned the ball over again. After a missed three-point attempt from Love, Holmes hit a three to tie the game, 30-30, with three minutes remaining in the first period.

Love found Bacot inside for a dunk to break the tie, the Cyclones answered with two free throws, and then the UNC big man hit a jump hook from the baseline to make the score 34-32 going into the half.

Love and Grill went right back to their guard battle out of the break, trading buckets through the first few minutes of the second half. A few minutes in, Iowa State forward Robert Jones hit two straight baskets to give the Cyclones the lead, 40-39.

Black was given the assignment to guard Grill in the second half, but it didn't seem to matter as Grill hit his fifth three-pointer of the game off a screen to put the Cyclones up by four. Nance responded with a turnaround post move for his first points of the game, and then first-year guard Seth Trimble tied the game back up from the charity stripe, 43-43.

Grill hit a pull-up jumper from the elbow to being his scoring total to 21, but Davis answered with a mid-range shot to keep the score even. UNC continued to successfully draw shooting fouls, tallying five-straight points from the line. A Nance three-pointer made the score 53-47 in favor of UNC, giving the Tar Heels some distance.

Who stood out?

Grill was electric for Iowa State, scoring 31 points off an efficient 11-15 shooting. The senior guard hit seven three-pointers, despite the fact that he was shooting 16.7 percent from behind the arc coming into the game.

UNC's team had a balanced day offensively, with Davis scoring 15 points, Bacot scoring 13 and Love scoring 12. Johnson had his best performance since his return to the court with eight points, six rebounds, two steals and an assist.

When was it decided?

With just over three minutes to play, Grill hit his sixth three-pointer to cut Iowa State's deficit to four, 60-56. Soon after, Nance went 1-2 from the free throw line and Grill his his seventh three-pointer of the day to toe the game at 61-points. After Bacot turned the ball over, Grill hit a deep two to give the Cyclones the lead.

Holmes then drew a foul and made both free throws to go up, 65-61. Over the course of Iowa State's nine-point run, Bacot turned the ball over three times.

Love then air balled a three-point attempt and missed another shot in the paint with less than a minute to play, forcing the Tar Heels to foul. UNC couldn't dig itself out of the hole, and the Cyclones won, 70-65.

Why does it matter?

Iowa State was UNC's first Power Five opponent of the season, a major test for the No. 1 Tar Heels.

The Cyclones's stifling defense gave UNC's offense trouble, and late-game turnovers eventually spelled doom for the Tar Heels. On the other end of the ball, UNC's guards had no answer for Grill, yet another example of a deep-shooting guard taking advantage of North Carolina's sub-par perimeter defense.

UNC looked like it had a chance to take control of the game late in the second half, but instead an implosion led the Tar Heels to squander away the lead and walk off the court with their first loss of the season.

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When do they play next?

UNC will play the loser of the UConn-Alabama matchup in the third-place game, with is set to tip off at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.


@dthsports |

Lucas Thomae

Lucas Thomae is the 2023-24 sports managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as an assistant sports editor and summer editor. Lucas is a senior pursuing a major in journalism and media with a minor in data science.