The eighth-ranked UNC men’s basketball team came one step closer to repeating as ACC regular season champions on Saturday, going on the road and defeating the Pitt Panthers 85-67.
Holding a two-game lead in the conference standings with two games to play, a single win guarantees an outright league title for head coach Roy Williams and company.
Junior wing Justin Jackson scored at least 20 points for the 16th time this season, as he led all Tar Heel scorers with 23 on the day–including five makes from three-point range.
His biggest help came from point guard Joel Berry–who added 19 points on 16 shots–and senior forward Kennedy Meeks.
Meeks was a force in the paint all game long, notching a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The Charlotte native helped spearhead a rebounding effort that saw UNC (25-5, 13-3 ACC) rack up an incredible 28 second chance points on 24 offensive boards.
“I always expect to win the rebounding battle, because we emphasize it so much,” Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams said after the game. “We have a couple guys who go out and shoot three-point shots, but Isaiah [Hicks] and Kennedy [Meeks] don’t shoot three-point shots.
“Their niche is rebounding the ball and scoring inside, so we do emphasize it.”
Pitt’s high-scoring duo of guard Jamel Artis and forward Michael Young combined for 34 of the Panthers’ 67 points, but their efforts weren’t enough–as the home team simply lacked the interior depth to hang around with the Tar Heels into the second half.
UNC led by just two points approaching the end of the first half, but a pair of three-pointers by Jackson and a pair of layups from Meeks and Luke Maye gave the Tar Heels a 10-0 run over the final three minutes before the break.
“I think we started getting the ball inside a little more,” Williams said. “I can’t remember who all made the shots then, but I think we just got the ball where we wanted to a little more–and got more shots than they did.”
From there, Pitt never brought the lead back within eight points–as UNC continued to take advantage of the overmatched Panther frontcourt with rebound after rebound after rebound.
The Tar Heels officially clinched a double-bye in the ACC Tournament with the win, and now have the potential to clinch an outright regular season title in what many analysts consider the toughest conference in all of college basketball.
At the very worst, UNC can lose each of its two remaining games and still clinch a share of the league crown.
A short turnaround awaits the Tar Heels, as they’ll take Sunday off before facing Virginia in Charlottesville on Monday in a rematch of a game that UNC won 65-41 at the Smith Center on Feb. 18.
- Two of UNC’s three conference losses this season (at Georgia Tech, at Miami) have come on the road during a Saturday game that started at noon. The win over Pitt improved the team to 2-2 in that situation so far this season.
- The 24 offensive rebounds pulled down by the Tar Heels were their season-high. Pitt had just 28 total rebounds in the game, compared to UNC’s 48.
- Freshman forward Tony Bradley added 10 points and six rebounds for UNC in 14 minutes off the bench. He represented the fourth, and final, Tar Heel to reach double figures on Saturday.
- Isaiah Hicks recorded a career-high six assists for the Tar Heels.