The Tar Heels headed to Columbus, OH a week after an intense loss to Duke in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. There was no time to dwell over what could have been. It’s March and it’s win or go home. The top-seeded Tar Heels faced an Iona squad that started the game off fire hot-shooting better than 50% from behind the arc en route to a 5-point lead at the half.
After a few halftime tweaks, the Heels quickly erased the deficit and took command of the game. Senior Cam Johnson is known to have the hot hand in the second half and Friday’s game was no different. Johnson opened the second half with a three pointer and went on to score 16 second-half points. After the game, Johnson discussed his propensity to turn it up in the second half. “I’d say, my shots in the second half seem to come more from inside out. At least a couple of them. And that’s kind of beneficial for a shooter just because you’ve got that vision toward the rim already.” Johnson led the Heels in scoring with 21 total points.
After making 10 of 21 three pointers in the first half, the Gaels went cold – making only 5 of 20 attempts in the second half. Freshman guard Coby White said that head coach Roy Williams was a little upset at halftime with the wide-open looks that the Gaels were getting. However, Williams told his squad that there was nothing that can be done about that half and to just play for the next one. White went on to say that Williams simply told his squad to play defense, hunker down, and guard your man.
The Heels came back from the break playing with much more defensive intensity and passion-forcing the Gaels into shooting 32% from the floor and only 25% from 3-point range after shooting 47% and 48% respectively in the first half. There were virtually no second chance attempts as Iona only managed to pull down 2 offensive rebounds compared to the 20 offensive rebounds snagged by the Heels. Freshman forward Nassir Little took full advantage as he came off the bench to pour in 19 points. Asked what clicked to contribute to a breakout game for him, Little said that taking what the defense gave and attacking the basket created opportunities for himself and teammates. Little added that hitting the glass is something the Heels emphasize every game regardless of opponents and it showed as the Heels out-rebounded Iona 52-26. The Gaels were lead by Rickey McGill who had a game-high 26 points.
The Heels were one of three top-seeds that got off to slow starts in Round One. They advance to face Washington on Sunday. The Washington Huskies defeated Utah State 78-61 on Friday to move on to the second round.