BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – North Carolina failed its first primetime road test at Assembly Hall, where No. 13 Indiana jumped out to an early 17-point lead and withstood a late rally to hand the nation’s third-ranked team its first loss of the season with a 76-67 defeat.
Indiana took control of the game with an early 18-4 spurt to take a 26-9 lead with 11:09 to play before halftime. The Hoosiers averaged 1.4 points per possession over their first 20 possessions and shot 56.3 percent (9-of-16).
The Tar Heels managed just 0.45 points per possession over their first 20, shooting 15.4 percent (2-of-13) while committing four turnovers.
"We didn't make plays in the beginning of the game, which led to them being able to make plays," junior wing Justin Jackson said after the loss. "So hats off to them. We've just got to learn from it and do better next time."
UNC trailed by 12 points at halftime and was unable to cut the deficit to less than eight points until the 5:19 mark when Kenny Williams’s layup and free throw closed the margin to 61-55. Joel Berry’s floater on the next possession pulled the Tar Heels to within four points, but that’s as close as they would get.
The Carolina shooting woes (39% FG, 29% 3FG, 59% FT) repeatedly stunted comeback attempts, as did Indiana shooting 50 percent from the floor in the second half.
Jackson Lone Offensive Bright Spot
The junior wing scored UNC's first basket on a drive across the paint over Indiana's Robert Johnson. Two possessions later, Jackson pulled up from the left wing and drained a 3-pointer. Those opening shots offered a glimpse into his offensive production for the game. He finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including a 4-of-7 effort from 3-point range.
"We knew we were going to have to be aggressive, whether it was offensively or defensively coming into this game," Jackson said. "We knew they were a really good team in their home environment. It's hard to win in there, so for me, I just tried to keep that mindset."
Jackson, who has scored 21 points or more in three games this season, is the lone Tar Heel to score in double figures every game. He's averaging 16.1 points per game on 47.9 percent shooting (37.5 percent 3FG) and is now UNC's leading scorer on the season.
Indiana entered the game ranked third nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (42.4), which is quite similar to UNC’s last opponent, No. 17 Wisconsin, which was rebounding 45.5 percent of its misses. The Badgers failed to replicate that success against the Tar Heels, however, managing just four offensive rebounds on two possessions.
The Hoosiers were much more effective on the offensive glass, rebounding 29.6 percent of their misses and neutralizing UNC on the boards (35.1 OR%). The Tar Heels won the rebounding margin by 12 or more in each of their first seven games before playing even, 37-37, on Wednesday.
Inability to Establish a Post Presence
UNC struggled to pound the ball into the post outside of a three-possession stretch to open the second half. Kennedy Meeks led UNC’s bigs with 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting, while fellow post starter Isaiah Hicks scored seven points on 2-of-4 shooting.
“You’ve got to be more aggressive," Roy Williams said when asked about the post difficulties in his postgame press conference. "Isaiah Hicks is a great, great player and I think at the half he had zero shots and three turnovers. They were more aggressive. And I’m not talking about the fouls or anything, they were more aggressive than we were."
In the first half, UNC’s post quartet of Hicks, Meeks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye combined for 3-of-6 shooting. Senior guard Nate Britt, who is averaging 5.7 field goal attempts per game, was 3-of-7 shooting.
Another Cold Shooting Road Game for Berry
Junior point guard Joel Berry is averaging 23.6 points on 61.7 percent shooting (55.2 percent from 3FG) in UNC’s five home and neutral site games. The rim hasn’t been near as lenient, however, on the road, where the Apopka, Fla. native is averaging five points on 18.2 percent shooting (nine percent from 3FG).
Berry was effective in other areas of the game, dishing out eight assists and grabbing four rebounds.
Maye, who had missed UNC’s previous five games with an ankle sprain, returned to the lineup at Assembly Hall. The sophomore forward’s rust was evident, but provided some quality minutes early in limited action. Maye finished with two points, two assists and an offensive rebound in eight minutes.
UNC returns to the Smith Center for the first time in nearly three weeks after a five-game road trip to host Radford on Sunday (2pm/RSN). The Highlanders are 3-4 on the season, but have lost all of their true road games.