CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Mike Gesell and his Iowa teammates shook off all the missed shots, ran down loose rebounds and fought their way through to the horn.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams never saw that kind of toughness from his team.
Gesell hit a driving layup for the go-ahead three-point play with 1:16 left, helping the Hawkeyes upset the No. 12 Tar Heels 60-55 on Wednesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Gesell finished with 16 points on a night when both the Hawkeyes (6-2) and Tar Heels (5-2) couldn't shoot straight.
"Last year I can't say we would've won this game," said Adam Woodbury, who scored all 11 of his points after halftime. "We weren't tough enough last year collectively. I hope this means we're turning the corner as a program."
Gesell's final basket came when the 6-foot-2 junior drove into the paint and scored over the 6-8 Isaiah Hicks.
"The shot clock was starting to run down a little bit so I knew I had to make a play," Gesell said. "I just wanted to take it strong to the basket. I know they have a lot of shot blockers, so I just wanted to get it high off the glass, and I was able to sneak it in there."
After UNC's Marcus Paige missed a 3-pointer for the tie, Gesell hit two free throws with 1 second left to seal a win that had Hawkeyes players running onto the court to celebrate at the horn.
Iowa shot just 33 percent and went 3 for 20 from 3-point range, but grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and scored 12 second-chance points after halftime -- critical considering Iowa missed all 12 of its 3-point shots in the second half.
Kennedy Meeks had 15 points and 12 rebounds for UNC, which shot just 28 percent.
Paige finished with 13 points, but went 4 for 16 from the floor and just 3 of 12 from behind the arc. The preseason Associated Press All-American also was called for a charge with 50 seconds left while driving into the paint after Gesell's three-point play.
"They made some plays down the stretch and we didn't really respond the way we should've," Paige said.
North Carolina pulled down 24 offensive rebounds but repeatedly missed second and third looks off those extra chances and shot just 14 for 30 in the paint.
Iowa's rebounding was a replay of UNC's loss to Butler in last week's Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, where the Bulldogs grabbed 29 offensive rebounds and had Williams questioning his team's toughness.
"They wanted it more than we did," Williams said. "That's a sorry thing to say. That's a sad thing to say."
Iowa: The Hawkeyes are 1-1 against ACC teams this season. They lost to Syracuse 66-63 on Nov. 21. ... Iowa made 21 of 24 free throws to help offset its shooting struggles. ... Leading scorer Aaron White finished with 10 points -- all at the foul line -- despite 0-for-6 shooting.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels went 4 of 23 on 3-pointers. ... UNC held what amounted to a green-out for this one, with fans wearing lime green shirts to encourage improved recycling efforts.
RELYING ON DEFENSE
Woodbury said his team's defense kept the Hawkeyes in this one. "The thing was, they didn't shoot the ball very well, either, which speaks to our defense and what we were able to do on that side of the floor," he said.
UNC outrebounded Iowa 26-15 in the first half and had a 15-1 edge in offensive rebounds. The Hawkeyes reversed that after halftime, finishing with a 27-20 edge overall and a 16-9 advantage on the offensive glass. "It was the only way we were going to survive," coach Fran McCaffery said of the offensive rebounds.
Iowa hosts Maryland-Baltimore County on Saturday.
North Carolina hosts East Carolina, coached by former Tar Heels player Jeff Lebo, on Sunday.