CHAPEL HILL– The surging North Carolina men’s basketball team earned a hard-fought 75-71 victory Saturday afternoon in the Smith Center against Pittsburgh to improve to 17-7 overall and 7-4 in conference play.
***Listen to the story***
With the loss, the Panthers fell to 20-6 overall and 8-5 in the ACC.
After knocking off the rust of the week-long hiatus, UNC picked up the intensity on the offensive end to jump out to a double-digit lead and hold off a charging Pittsburgh squad down the stretch to claim a sixth straight win.
There were some nervous moments inside the Dean Dome, but spirited aggression displayed by James Michael McAdoo, who led UNC in scoring with 24 points, was infectious to the rest of the team, lifting the play of the Tar Heels.
Marcus Paige, in patented style, saved his best for the second half, knocking down three-pointer after three-pointer and finishing with 18 points, including hitting five of his six shots from behind the arc.
“It’s a big win over a very good basketball team, and I’m glad I don’t have to go to Pittsburgh this year. They’re awfully good but we made some big plays. Marcus made some big threes in the second half. Every time they would make a little run, we’d make a couple baskets ourselves until the very end there,” Coach Williams says.
***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame press conference***
Lamar Patterson led the Panthers in scoring with 16 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Tar Heels.
Pitt’s Cameron Wright stole a Carolina pass and converted for a score to hand the visitors the 6-2 advantage with 17:04 to play in the half.
The physicality of the Panther defense was stymying the Carolina attack early on, but Paige knocked down a three-pointer to get the crowd back in it and get the Tar Heels within three points at 8-5.
An alert play by Tokoto got Carolina its first lead of the contest at 9-8 with 13:55 to play in the half, but Pitt responded on the other end with points in the paint to reclaim the lead.
Lamar Patterson sniped a shot from behind the arc to extend the Panther lead out to 13-9. McAdoo’s free throw shot seemingly returned, making both of his attempts on the other end to close UNC to 13-11 with 12:05 to play.
Patterson was having his way with Isaiah Hicks, knocking down another three-pointer to jump Pitt out to an 18-13 advantage with 10:28 on the first half clock.
Tokoto responded with an aggressive move to the basket, making it and drawing the foul. And he found his way to the foul line again, converting on both attempts to place the scoreboard at 20-17 in favor of the Panthers.
McAdoo surged ahead, scoring on two beautiful jumpers to ignite the Smith Center noise volume. The Tar Heels were down only a single point at 22-21 with 7:55 to play in the half.
Brice Johnson scored on a physical layup inside to rebound from an easy Pitt score on the previous possession.
A determined half court steal followed by an emphatic dunk by McAdoo tied the game at 27 points apiece.
With 3:36 remaining in the first half, Carolina was deadlocked with Pittsburgh 27-27.
Hicks lit up the court with an athletic slam to give the Tar Heels a 29-27 lead briefly. Jackson Simmons set a great screen that cleared the way for Paige to score and give UNC the 33-29 advantage with 1:40 left in the half.
McAdoo followed with a score of his own to stake the Tar Heels out to the 35-29 lead with 1:15 on the first half clock.
The halftime stat sheet showed the Carolina was shooting at a 40.6 percent clip while Pittsburgh was shooting 44 percent from the floor.
Tokoto opened up the second half with a high-flying, acrobatic slam dunk to give the Tar Heels a 39-33 lead with 17:50 to play in the game.
Paige nailed a long-range three-pointer to give Carolin a 42-35 lead with 16:40 remaining on the clock.
Pitt’s Robinson ran the floor after a timeout for a score that tightened the contest up at 42-37.
James Artis battled his way to the basket, scoring and picking up the foul to close the gap down to five points with 14:3o on the second half clock.
Paige knocked down a three-pointer just as the Panthers closed to within two points to give the Tar Heels back a five-point cushion with 11:38 remaining.
McAdoo cleaned up a Britt missed layup to force a Pittsburgh timeout at the 10:58 mark. The Tar Heels had the 53-44 lead.
Paige hit another three-pointer to extend the lead for the home team as Pittsburgh was beginning to find it difficult to defend the UNC offensive flow with crisp passing.
Pitt’s Michael Young banged one through the nets to reduce the arrears down to single digits at 61-52 with 7:10 to play.
After a timely timeout, McAdoo scored inside to regain the momentum for his team.
Patterson grabbed a clutch steal and finished an acrobatic score while being fouled to close the gap down to four points at 63-59 with under six minutes to go in the game.
The Panthers trimmed the lead down to a mere two points again, but McAdoo answered with a made jumper.
McAdoo was stepping up down the stretch, following a Pitt score with another clutch make on the other end. With 3:49 to play, Carolina held the 67-62 advantage.
But Pitt continued to take the ball right to the basket, with determined efforts, working their way to the foul line and knocking down the shots.
Carolina staved off the Pitt momentum and made free throws in the waning minutes to preserve the pivotal win.
Paige says it’s the defensive intensity that is really making the difference for Carolina.
“We have just been more active and more intelligent on the defensive end and obviously that has helped us get in transition,” Paige says.
Next up for the Tar Heels is a quick turnaround – a road trip down to Tallahassee to face Florida State on Monday.
View the entire game photo gallery here.