For the third straight time, Pittsburgh traveled to Chapel Hill, and for the third straight time, they left with a win after beating UNC 65-64 tonight in the Smith Center. The win secures Pittsburgh a regular season sweep of Carolina, as they’ve now won 5 of the last 6 against the Tar Heels. Carolina led 46-40 in the early part of the second half and had a chance to put the game away, instead Nelly Cummings his three straight, three-pointers to ignite a 13-2 Pitt run, to give them a 53-48 lead. Trailing 61-58, Caleb Love hit a deep triple to tie the game again, and eventually, Armando Bacot gave UNC, a 64-63 lead with two made foul shots. The teams would share empty possessions, before Jamarious Burton, drew a foul on R.J. Davis with 3.4 seconds, where he would make both foul shots, to give Pitt the lead, and the result of the game.
As the final score indicates, it was an ugly game on offense, as Carolina shot just 35% from the field, and an even worse, 19% from behind the arc. On the flip side, Pittsburgh shot 45%, and 37% from deep, which allowed them to control the game on both ends. Another issue for Carolina was missed foul shots, as they were just 13-22, as Armando Bacot was 9-15 individually. UNC even won the rebounding margin (43-34), and the points in the paint (30-26), but it wasn’t enough. Caleb Love had one of his better games on the season, as he scored a game-high 22 points, on 8-18, but his shot selection was questionable down the stretch, along with a costly turnover. The other Carolina players in double figures were Armando Bacot (15), and Pete Nance (13). R.J. Davis failed to reach double figures for the second straight game.
This loss isn’t as bad as the loss last season was, but it’s equally frustrating and disappointing. Carolina had over a week to be ready for this game, and instead, they came out flat, to start a very important stretch, that will ultimately define the season. With back-to-back road games at Duke and Wake Forest coming up, a three-game losing streak isn't out of the question, and if that happens, Carolina will find themselves squarely on the NCAA Tournament, something the preseason #1 team couldn’t have envisioned when the season started.
Toughness: Simply put, the tougher team won tonight. The game meant more to Pitt, than it did to UNC, and it showed as the Panthers did the little things it takes to win games on the road in this conference. It wasn’t just physical toughness, it’s also very obvious that Pittsburgh is in the heads of Carolina, and they fed off that tonight.
Shot Selection: For some reason, the Tar Heels started the game not playing through Armando Bacot, as they settled for contested jump shots that just weren’t falling. Despite shooting 19% from behind the arc, Carolina still attempted 27 three-pointers, including 11 alone from Caleb Love. All season long the offense has been at its best when they’ve played inside-out, and for some in both games against Pittsburgh, they went away from that, and it’s not a coincidence that both games resulted in losses.
Free Throws: There have been games that Carolina has won, but had they lost, a big factor would’ve been because of missed foul shots. Well tonight, it finally caught up to them, as they were 13-22 from the charity stripe, with Bacot going 9-15. It wasn’t just Bacot who struggled, R.J. Davis who entered the game as the ACC’s leading free-throw shooter, was 2-4.
Puff Johnson: The reserve forward didn’t play again tonight, and his absence was noticed, as when Leaky Black picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, Hubert Davis had to go small with D’Marco Dunn on the floor. Carolina is going to need Puff to return soon, as he provides length and energy on defense, which is both desperately needed and is a quality offensive rebounder as well.
Second Chance Points: The Tar Heels grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, which is really impressive against a team like Pitt, but they only converted them into 13 second-chance points which just isn’t enough.
Up Next: It doesn’t get any easier for Carolina, as they make the 8 mile bus ride down Tobacco Road, to take on Duke for the first time under Jon Scheyer.
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