Three things we learned from No. 1 North Carolina’s 71-67 loss at Northern Iowa on Saturday:
1. Don’t schedule homecoming games against a team like Northern Iowa. The only reason North Carolina ventured into a true road game in Cedar Falls, Iowa, was to follow in the tradition of playing in or near the hometowns of their senior players. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, Marcus Paige was still sidelined due to a broken right hand. The Marion, Iowa, native, dressed in uniform for the first time this season and was recognized before the game by UNI. The Panthers were a lot less hospitable once the ball was tipped.
2. Paige’s absence hurts more than the Tar Heels realized. It’s not just a matter of outside shooting. The Heels have been better than expected from 3-point range. Nate Britt entered the game shooting 66 percent from 3-point range and Joel Berry II was at 41 percent. What was missing from the Heels' lineup was the big shot-maker. Paige is normally the one the Heels look for to bring calm when an opponent is making a run. When UNI overtook Carolina during a 20-4 run in the second half, the Heels didn’t have any go-to player it could depend upon to make the crowd-quieting basket and end the Panthers' momentum.
3. Carolina’s on-ball defense still needs some work. The Panthers were able to get to the rim when they wanted to in the second half, and it wasn’t just because one player allowed a drive. Rotations were slow or nonexistent. An example in the second half found UNI guard Wes Washpun with a clear path to the rim after a pick set him free. Justin Jackson, who had an offensive breakthrough with a career-high 25 points, should have been there for help-side defense, but didn’t react in time to even lift a hand to deter Washpun.