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Heel Tough Blog: Phil Knight Invitational - Iowa State Recap


Iowa State University Athletics


After playing with fire virtually all season long, UNC finally fell short as they lost to Iowa State 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational. Carolina took a 60-53 lead shortly before the under-4 timeout in the second half, but Iowa State led by Caleb Grill would outscore UNC 17-5 the rest of the way. Speaking of Caleb Grill, he scored a career-high 31 points, on 11-15 shooting including going 7-11 from behind the arc. It’s been a tradition over the years for UNC to get cooked by a kid who emerges seemingly out of nowhere, and today Grill was that player. It wasn’t all just Grill though, as Carolina shot only 44% from the floor, and just 17% from behind the arc, as the shooting woes for the team continue. Factor in going just 18-25 from the foul line (72%), and committing 14 turnovers, and that was a recipe for an upset, and that’s what happened today. The Tar Heels big three of Armando Bacot, R.J. Davis, and Caleb Love all scored in double figures, but combined to shoot just 41% from the floor, and committed 10 of the 14 turnovers. Simply put, they haven’t played well at the same time, and need to start playing better both individually, and collectively.


This was an extremely physical game, as there were 42 combined fouls called in the game, therefore taking the floor out of the game on offense, which favored the Cyclones. Entering the game, it was imperative for Carolina to play in the open floor, and that just didn’t happen. Even though UNC won the battle of the boards (36-29), Iowa State dictated the tempo just like every team has previously, and it finally caught up to them today.


In the long run, this might be the wake-up call this team needed, because this wasn’t a team that was worthy of being ranked #1, and it felt like things weren’t going to change until they suffered a loss. Now that this team has been beaten, that means the first dose of adversity is on the way, and we’re going to learn a lot about who they are, and what they are made of. Before that, let’s take a look at how this loss happened:


  1. Turnovers: Given the amount of experience in the startling lineup, it’s frustrating to see Carolina’s trio of Bacot, Davis, and Love combine for 10 of the 14 turnovers, and the starters as a whole, committed 13 of the 14. Iowa State was able to score 21 points off those 14 turnovers, giving their offense the extra gear needed to beat the top team in the country. The issue with the turnovers isn’t the number of turnovers necessarily, but the type of turnovers they are committing. It’s a lot of what we saw last year, which was a series of bad decisions, along with not being strong with the basketball.

  2. Dynamic Cyclone Duo: In theory, UNC got beat by two players today: Caleb Grill and Jaren Holmes, as the two combined to score 53 of the team’s 70 total points. UNC’s defense was exposed yesterday against Portland, and today Iowa State screened them to death to open up Grill from the perimeter, as he was 7-11 from distance.

  3. Perimeter Shooting: Or lack thereof. Carolina shot just 3-18 from behind the arc, and it’s obvious at this point that Love and Davis are pressing, hoping to shoot themselves out of their slump to the start, and that simply isn’t happening. Factor in the struggles of Pete Nace from the perimeter at times, and no scoring off the bench, and it has been easier for teams to clamp down on the perimeter, and for Love and Davis to settle for contested jumpers.

  4. Bench: After scoring just 3 points yesterday, Carolina got 12 points off the bench today, led by 8 from Puff Johnson. Puff also added 6 rebounds in his 12 minutes and looked like the Puff from last season. As positive as Puff was today, Carolina just needs more from their reserves. It’s still November, but it’s clear that Hubert Davis doesn’t have the faith in his reserves to play extended minutes, as all starters played at least 31 minutes, on the second night of a back-to-back.

  5. Rebounding: It’s evident that this team has returned to form in this area, as they won the battle of the boards 36-29. They limited Iowa State to only 10 offensive rebounds, as they entered the game as the fourth-best team in the country in offensive rebounding (16.7). Bacot led the way with 9, and got contributions from Nance (7), Johnson (6), and Black (5).

Up Next: UNC will play the loser of the Alabama/UConn game on Sunday at 3:30 on ESPN.


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