Tar Heels' furious 17-point comeback not enough as Pitt wins
North Carolina showed the sense of urgency and all-out effort on every play Friday that Roy Williams has constantly mentioned as the key to the Tar Heels’ turnaround.
It just happened way too late to save No. 4 UNC from an early exit against No. 5 Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
The Tar Heels couldn’t come back from a 20-point deficit with 7:22 remaining and lost 80-75 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The loss broke UNC’s three-year streak of making the ACC Tournament final and ensured the Tar Heels (23-9) would enter the NCAA Tournament on a two-game losing streak for just the fourth time in school history.
Pitt (25-8) was coming off a 29-point win over No. 12 seed Wake Forest on Thursday and Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said his team is now playing its best. But after winning 12 straight games, UNC has struggled in March, barely beating Virginia Tech and Notre Dame and giving up a season-high 93 points at Duke before Friday’s loss.
“I think we were starting to play our best basketball maybe seven or eight games into the streak and then we had a little slippage in our overall intensity and making every play matter and that showed up in the last couple of games,” sophomore Marcus Paige said. “We’re still doing things well. I think our confidence isn’t all a loss. We just have to go get back to work and fine tune some things and understand that you have to come ready to play against anyone for 40 minutes, not just 10.”
Paige, who was named a Bob Cousy Award finalist earlier in the day, had another strong finish. The sophomore had 20 of his 27 points after halftime and hit four 3-pointers in the final seven minutes during UNC’s furious comeback. Backup point guard Nate Britt added nine points, five assists and three steals and sophomore Brice Johnson scored 16 points on 8 of 9 shooting.
But most of the other Tar Heels struggled. Senior Leslie McDonald fouled out in 16 minutes with zero points and three turnovers, starting center Kennedy Meeks played eight ineffective minutes and junior forward James Michael McAdoo shot 4 of 13.
The Tar Heels also allowed Pitt center Talib Zanna to grab 21 rebounds, two shy of the ACC Tournament record set in 1959 and the most ever by an opposing player in the Williams era.
“Seemed like he wanted it more than me,” Meeks said. “I take full responsibility for that. I could have played a lot better. Disappointed that I kind of let my teammates down.”
UNC made just 3 of its first 19 shots and trailed 25-8 after 13 minutes. The Tar Heels made their last seven shots to get within 10 at halftime, but another slow start in the second half allowed Pitt to extend the lead to 19 with 11:40 remaining.
“Needless to say, it’s extremely disappointing to play the way we did the first 30, 32 minutes of the game,” Williams said. “You have to congratulate Pittsburgh because they made us play that way. They were really effective. They had a great sense of urgency.”
A full-court press from UNC forced some backcourt turnovers from the Panthers and allowed the Tar Heels to get back into the game, and Pittsburgh missed 7 of 12 free throws in the final minute to make in interesting.
Britt’s long field goal made it a 3-point game with 12 seconds left, but James Robinson made two free throws on the ensuing possession to seal the win.
Playing in its first ACC Tournament, the Panthers will face top seed Virginia in the semifinals today at 1 p.m. (ESPN/WRAL), having likely sealed an NCAA Tournament bid that may have been in doubt to start the week.
After a slow start to the season, the Tar Heels guaranteed they would be in the NCAA Tournament during their undefeated February. But Friday’s loss all but ensured that UNC won’t be seeded high enough to play at the regional site in Raleigh next weekend.
Of course, a pro-UNC crowd didn’t help the Tar Heels Friday, and the location won’t matter if the Tar Heels come out in the NCAA Tournament with the same lack of focus it had against the Panthers.
“Pitt wanted to be the enforcer from the get-go and they did that,” McDonald said. “We have to fight from the beginning and we can’t dig ourselves a hole that we can’t get out of in the end.”
|PITTSBURGH 80, No. 15 UNC 75|
Percentages: FG .519, FT .512.
3-Point Goals: 5-13, .385 (Patterson 3-8, Robinson 1-1, Artis 1-2, Young 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Young, Zanna).
Turnovers: 15 (Patterson 6, Newkirk 2, Robinson 2, Zanna 2, Wright 2, Artis).
Steals: 7 (Robinson 4, Wright 2, Zanna).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .410, FT .656.
3-Point Goals: 4-16, .250 (Paige 4-12, McDonald 0-1, McAdoo 0-1, Tokoto 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Johnson, Hubert).
Turnovers: 12 (McDonald 3, Britt 3, Paige 2, Meeks, Tokoto, McAdoo, James).
Steals: 5 (Britt 3, Johnson, Tokoto).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Karl Hess, Raymond Styons, Brian Dorsey.