“They wanted it more than we did and that’s a sorry thing to say,” Williams told reporters after No. 12 North Carolina’s 60-55 loss to Iowa. “It’s a sad thing to say.”
The Tar Heels, despite a woeful shooting display, stayed within reach of the Hawkeyes in the first half by dominating the offensive glass by a 15-1 margin. UNC held an 11-0 edge in second-chance points at halftime.
Iowa shot just 24.2 percent (8-of-33) in the second half, yet copied UNC’s approach in converting 16 offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points.
“We really went after them,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said of his team’s work on the glass. “It was the only way we were going to survive.”
Iowa outscored UNC 20-10 over the final 10 minutes of play and 10 of those points came off offensive rebounds.
With 3:34 to play and the Hawkeyes leading 52-51, Iowa center Adam Woodbury missed a free throw only for teammate Jarrod Uthoff to grab the rebound. Aaron White converted the second-chance opportunity to give Iowa a 54-51 lead.
Williams highlighted that play when discussing how to address his team’s toughness, or lack thereof.
“You’ve just got to get guys that want to compete,” the 12th-year UNC head coach said. “You put guys in and the other guys sit down; that’s one way to teach it, but it didn’t do very well tonight because we sat a lot of guys on the bench because they weren’t being productive. It’s got to be a continual thing.”
The Tar Heels collectively were at a loss in explaining how to play tougher aside from just playing tougher.
“You just have to do it,” junior guard Marcus Paige said. “You can talk about it all day, but if you’re not getting 50-50 balls and you’re not crashing the boards, then you’re not doing it.”
Junior forward Brice Johnson told reporters that UNC has shown that it can play with the proper mentality, referencing how his team played in double-digit victories over UCLA and Florida following the Butler loss in the Battle 4 Atlantis last week in the Bahamas.
“We played a lot tougher in those games and the outcome was better,” Johnson said. “We didn’t play the way we should have tonight. They had some big plays at the end. They played a little bit harder than us, so they ended up winning.”
While Iowa capitalized on grinding out points off its offensive rebounds late, UNC failed to take a two-point lead with under five minutes to play when Johnson missed a pair of layups at the rim after offensive rebounds.
“I don’t know how to fix it,” Williams replied when asked about his team’s misses from point-blank range. “If I’m six inches away, I’m going to make the dadgum basket. That’s how I’d fix it. I’d make the dadgum basket.”
Johnson, who appeared equal parts angry and distraught during his postgame interview, stressed the need to play tougher and with more physicality underneath, especially on those late misses.
“I wish I could have made it, but next time I’ll know to dunk it,” Johnson said. “I need to stop being a baby and just go up there and dunk it like I used to. I’ve got to get back to what I used to do, going up there and dunking it every time.”
The Tar Heels bounced back after last Wednesday’s loss and played the role of aggressor against the Bruins and Gators. A second lapse in eight days, however, had Williams challenging his team after its ACC/Big Ten Challenge upset.
“At some point you’ve got to decide how important it is to you, and that’s something that I can’t do,” Williams said. “I know how important it is to me, but some other people have got to make their decision, too.”
Toughness in Question
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