WASHINGTON, DC – Pittsburgh huffed and puffed, but the bricks that make up North Carolina’s house wouldn’t budge.
The Panthers put up a good effort but the Heels, too deep, too talent, pulled away for a 88-71 in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.
A dangerous combination of Brice Johnson, Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson were too much for the Panthers to handle Thursday afternoon. The trio combined for 50 points, getting a helping hand off the bench from ACC Sixth Man of The Year Isaiah Hicks, who finished with 10.
Pitt, Jamel well Artis, got Pitt going early, outscoring the Heels 8-0 to open the game. A Hicks layup pulled the Heels to within three, and his block led to a layup by Berry to make it a one-point game, 12-11, in favor of the Panthers.
Another reserve – DC native Nate Britt – gave UNC its first lead of the day, scoring on an old-fashioned layup to make it a two-point game. Britt and Hicks got UNC going. Kennedy Meeks powered to position under the basket for an easy layup, then Hicks made a spin move to the basket look easy, finishing with a slam.
“We got a big lift from out bench,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “That got us back in the basketball game. I would like to have those kind of moments a lot.”
The momentum was in favor of Carolina, but Pitt, didn’t go easy. The Panthers never led in the second half, but briefly tied the Heels, knotting the score up at 45 with 15:52 remaining. Carolina countered with an 8-0 run, sparked by three from Jackson. Again, Pitt stopped the bleeding, getting a bucket from Michael Young, but UNC wasn’t done. The Heels, perhaps done jabbing, hit the Panthers with a haymaker in the form of a 12-0 run. The telling sign that everything was going in favor of the Heels – freshman Kenny Williams hit his first three of the season during the run for Carolina.
Game changer – Carolina found itself down seven with 4:36 remaining in the first half. The Heels woke up, outscoring the Panthers 10-0 the rest of the way. Jumpers by Paige, Berry and Meeks tied the game at 35. Theo Pinson found Johnson for a nice throwdown for the lead and Berry scored off a steal to give the Heels the four point lead, and the momentum, at the break.
“The last four or five minutes of the first half we got much more active defensively,” Williams said. “We made stops. Up until that last five minutes I was not pleased at all with how we played in the first half.”
Numbers don’t lie
7 – Number of assists from reserve forward Theo Pinson, a team-high for the Heels. Carolina has 18 on 33 field goals.
61.5 – North Carolina’s field goal percentage in the second half.
“We got better shots,” Williams said. “Moving the ball better on the offensive end gave us a big lift.”
10 – Number of Heels who scored in the win over the Panthers.
“We didn’t play enough guys,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “Eventually it caught up with us.”
Brice Johnson, UNC – Johnson added another double-double with 19 points and 10 boards.
Joel Berry, UNC – The Tar Heels point-guard filled the stat sheet with a game-high 20 points, to go along with three assists and four steals. However, Williams did joke about Berry not getting any rebounds in the win.
Michael Young, Pitt – Finished with 19 points and four rebounds.
What’s next? – Carolina gets to watch and wait for its next opponent. The Heels will take on the winner of the Duke/Notre Dame contest. Both teams beat UNC this season. The Fighting Irish defeated UNC, 86-82, in South Bend on Jan. 9. The Blue Devils and Heels split regular season games. Carolina clinched the regular season title with a 76-62 win over Duke last Saturday.