Iowa finds signature win in 60-55 victory over No. 12 North Carolina


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Iowa had been in this situation before.

Up during halftime of the Hawkeyes’ 60-55 win over No. 12 North Carolina, the game felt eerily similar to Iowa’s early season loss to No. 6 Texas on Nov. 20, which was the first time the Hawkeyes lost this year.

Only this time, Iowa didn’t blow its lead, made stops and shots when it needed to, and left Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with its first win over a ranked opponent this season.

“I don’t think we would have got this win last year,” Adam Woodbury said after the game. “We weren’t as mentally tough as we needed to be last year down the stretch. I think that was pretty obvious. We made an attempt this year to turn the page on that.”

“I hope this is a turning point for us. Keep the momentum going into the rest of the year and continue to get some wins.”

Nothing about this win — Iowa’s sixth of the season — was pretty.

The Hawkeyes shot 32.7 percent from the floor. They made just three 3s on 20 attempts. And after storming out the gates 7-for-10 from the field, the Hawkeyes went just 11-for-45 the rest of the game.

But Iowa weathered the storm, which is slowly becoming the mantra of this team early in the season.

“It’s our identity, it’s how we view ourselves,” guard Anthony Clemmons said. “We always preach toughness … that’s something we like to approach every game with. Stick to toughness.”

Iowa struggled to keep North Carolina’s frontcourt off the offensive glass. Surprisingly, the Tar Heels rarely converted on those extra opportunities.

Of its 24 offensive rebounds — 15 of which occurred in the first half — North Carolina finished with just 16 second-chance points.

The Tar Heels didn’t get much in their half-court offense either.

Iowa held North Carolina to just 27.9 percent from the floor, and allowed just four 3-pointers on the night.

Most importantly, Iowa held North Carolina’s main offensive threat, guard and Cedar Rapids-native Marcus Paige, to just 4-of-16 from the floor with no assists.

“That was what we learned against Texas,” head coach Fran McCaffery said after the game. “We went nine-straight possessions where we didn’t score, and the lead went to 15 quickly. Today we didn’t let that happen.”

While the Hawkeyes struggled on the boards early, they turned the corner mid-way through the second half, a half in which Iowa countered the Tar Heels first-half rebounding performance with 16 offensive boards of their own.

The second chances helped fuel Iowa’s offense, which finished with three players in double-figures —Aaron White, Mike Gesell, and Adam Woodbury.

Gesell led all scorers with 16 points, outdueling his once-AAU teammate Paige on a big stage.

No shot was bigger than his lay-up and foul shot that gave Iowa’s its final lead of the game with 1:16 left in the contest.

He followed that up by hitting two free throws with just over one second the clock to seal the victory.

“That’s always my plan,” Gesell said. “To continue to be aggressive. I haven’t been shooting the ball great lately, and I just want to continue to stay aggressive with that, and continue to shoot the ball. I was able to knock my first few down, and it felt pretty good.”

It’s early in the season, but the Hawkeyes headed into this game looking for a signature win.

They missed opportunities early in the season for one, but found one Wednesday night, beating a team some projected as a national-championship contender.

“This is why I came to this program, to get wins like this,” Woodbury said. “We beat a very good team tonight. Not many people come into this hostile environment and get wins.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa basketball team.

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