Tar Heels show championship form in dominant win at Pitt

UNC has now won or shared the regular season ACC crown 31 times, including eight in the 14 seasons Roy Williams has been its coach. It can clinch the title outright with a win at Virginia on Monday

Charles LeClaire—USA Today Sports
Feb 25

PITTSBURGH — Maybe the North Carolina basketball team should consider wearing its home white uniforms on the road more often, especially when it’s a noon game on a Saturday. The last two times the Tar Heels drew the early weekend tipoff, they lost at Georgia Tech and Miami, the latter by 15 points in a game that saw them shoot just 35 percent from the floor. It was a different story this time. And not because Pittsburgh opted to wear its throwback blue jerseys in celebration of Senior Day. Just three weeks after struggling to eke out a two-point win in the first meeting between the teams in Chapel Hill, UNC took the emotional Senior Day crowd out of the equation early, then put the Panthers away with a late first-half surge for an 85-67 victory at Petersen Events Center. The Tar Heels got 23 points from league Player of the Year candidate Justin Jackson and pulled down nearly as many offensive rebounds (24) as their opponent had total (28) to clinch at least a tie for the ACC regular season title with two games to play. “Regardless of what we wear or where we’re at, we just have to continue getting better as a team,” point guard Joel Berry said. “We know what’s at stake. It’s bigger than just going out and playing another game. We want to win the regular season championship and keep getting better. Today we came out with a lot of energy.” UNC (25-5, 13-3) has now won or shared the regular season league crown 31 times, including eight in the 14 seasons Roy Williams has been its coach. The Tar Heels can clinch the title outright with a win at Virginia on Monday. They left little doubt that they were focused on the goal Saturday. Unlike its last trip to Pitt, in which they fell behind 10-0 and never truly recovered, UNC got off to a solid start. It weathered an early storm on the strength of 3-pointers by Jackson, Berry and Theo Pinson, then began to exert its dominance inside to take control of the game and methodically pull away. After trailing 17-11, the Tar Heels outscored the Panthers 29-11 over the final 12 minutes of the first half. “We started getting the ball inside a little more then,” Williams said. “I don’t remember who made all the shots. but I think we just got the ball where we wanted a little be more and got more shots than they did.” The final numbers bear that out. UNC attempted 73 shots to just 48 for Pittsburgh (15-14, 4-12). Much of that advantage came about because of a 24-9 edge on the offensive glass. The Tar Heels outrebounded the Panthers 48-28 overall, outscored them 42-24 in the paint and 28-9 on second chance points. Kennedy Meeks finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Tony Bradley added 10 points and six boards off the bench and even Isaiah Hicks got back into the act — finally scoring again after a 49:55 drought on his way to eight points, six rebounds and a career-high six assists. In addition to the dominance in the paint and on the boards, the Tar Heels made 10 of 24 3-pointers, recorded 23 assists on 33 field goals and limited the Panthers to just 39.6 percent shooting. It was UNC’s third strong defensive effort in a row and an exponential improvement over the last time it played it played Pitt, when the Panthers made 13 3-pointers and shot 55.6 percent from the floor in an 80-78 nail-biter. “They definitely improved since the last time we played them,” Pitt forward Jamel Artis said. “They keyed on us and made us take shots outside the 3-point line. We didn’t get many chances inside.” Other than a brief lapse early in the second half in which the Panthers got two straight breakaway dunks and scored six straight points to make their last serious challenge, UNC looked every bit the part of a balanced, mature team starting to round into championship form. “When we key in on what we’re supposed to do,” Jackson said. “I think we’ll be alright.” Jackson has certainly been locked in lately. The junior forward, who is making a strong push for ACC Player of the Year honors, continued his recent hot streak by going 5 of 11 from beyond the 3-point arc while hitting the 20-point mark for the seventh time in his last nine games and 16th time this season. His two 3-pointers late in the shot clock keyed the Tar Heels’ game-breaking run before halftime. He then punctuated his big game with a dunk over and subsequent stare-down of 6-foot-11, 300-pound Panther Rozelle Nix. “That was his first one,” Meeks said of Jackson’s throw-down. “It’s a new confidence for him. When you’ve got it going, it’s hard to stop.”