CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina head coach Roy Williams has a favorite saying. Actually, he has a few of them, but he tested the media to see if they knew which one he was about to say to start his post game press conference.
“This is a test,” Williams told the media, waiting to see who could guess his opening statement. “Everythings better when the ball goes in the basket.”
The ball went in the basket a lot for UNC during its 85-64 win over Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon in the Smith Center. North Carolina improved to 21-4 overall and 10-2 in ACC by shooting 63 percent from the field in the second half. Five different players scored in double figures, led by Brice Johnson with 19, and the Heels appear to be out of the the funk that haunted them during a two-game slide in conference play.
“We had talked about how, even when we were winning before we loss those two in a row, we weren’t playing great basketball,” Marcus Paige said. “We were kind of just scraping by with wins. We had a reality check with losing back-to-back and then we kind of laid an egg against Boston College and were able to execute down the stretch. We just really wanted to buckle down and play harder.”
North Carolina returned home for the first time in three games and gave the fans in the Smith Center plenty to cheer about. Pitt led once the entire game, and UNC built a 13-point halftime lead. The Heels had a balanced attack in the first half, with seven different players scoring. In the second half, UNC held the Panthers to 39.4 percent shooting from the field. The closest Pitt would get was seven (48-41), but Carolina countered with a 13-0 run, slamming the door shut on any hopes the Panthers had of a comeback.
Williams didn’t have much to critique after the game. Even though his team gave up 19 offensive rebounds and only collected one, he could live with that. Besides, shooting 60 percent for the game, there weren’t many opportunities to collect rebounds off of misses.
Carolina also had 26 assists (a season-high) on 32 made baskets.
“I was really pleased with us defensively, with the exception of finishing the defense,” Williams said. “I liked our shot selection.”
Williams singled out sophomore Justin Jackson, who has put together a couple of good games after going through a slump. He had 20 against Boston College and 14 versus the Panthers, including going 2-3 from three-point range.
Jackson heard a stat that he was 0-30 from three-point range and wanted to make sure that came to an end.
“For me it’s just about forgetting all that stuff,” Jackson said. “I just kept putting in the time that I put in and just going out there and playing with confidence. I just wanted to get out of the slump I was in. I think I relaxed a little bit.”
Game changer – Marcus Paige’s dunk in the first half energized the crowd and the senior from Iowa, who appeared to play with more passion than he has in the last few weeks. Paige, who normally doesn’t play above the rim, took a pass from Jackson on the wing and threw it down with two hands. That gave UNC a 25-17 advantage in the first half.
Stick with it – Pitt started the game in a zone defense in an attempt to slow down Carolina. Didn’t work. The Heels shared the basketball with ease – season-high 26 assists – finding gaps in the Panthers defensive strategy.
“We have so many guys who can score,” Paige said.
Numbers don’t lie
6 – Number of assists by UNC reserve forward Theo Pinson, the seventh time this season he has led the team in assists.
5 – Number of Tar Heels in double figures.
19 – Number of turnovers by Pitt. Carolina converted those turnovers into 24 points.
16 – Number of times this season that UNC has shot 50 percent or better from the floor.
42 – Points in the paint for Carolina.
Brice Johnson, UNC – Johnson was his usual self, finishing with 19 points (game-high) and seven boards.
Marcus Paige, UNC – Is Paige back? Paige scored 15 points, had three assists and two steals in the win against Pitt.
Joel Berry II, UNC – Berry continues to be steady. He finished with 13 points, six rebounds, three steals, two blocked shots and two assists to fill the stat sheet.
Isaiah Hicks, UNC – Too bad the ACC doesn’t do a Sixth Man of The Year Award. Hicks would have that locked up. He scored 10 points off the bench for UNC, the 13th time this season he has scored in double figures.
What’s next? – At least you’re living under a rock, you know that the Heels host rival Duke Wednesday night at 9 p.m.
Quote of the night – “I was just happy to finish the daggone game. It was boring the other night. I didn’t feel well and it was boring.” – UNC head coach Roy Williams after having to miss the second half of the Boston College game on Tuesday because of a vertigo.