This game pretty much unfolded the way the numbers laid it out. It was two solid defensive teams with decent offenses engaged in a hard fought battle. UNC fell behind early but rallied by capitalizing off 10 first half turnovers by Pitt to take a four point lead into the break. UNC played well early in the second half and with 8:50 left extended the lead to 12 points. From there it turned it a full-on struggle to hold onto the win. Pitt whittled the lead down to as little as two points with five minutes left in the game before James Michael McAdoo essentially took the game over. McAdoo scored six of UNC's next seven points to keep the Tar Heel lead at three or better. Also instrumental in UNC's ability to hold onto the lead was two post timeout plays drawn up by Roy Williams resulting in McAdoo baskets. The remainder of the game was a matter of free throw shooting. UNC again had struggles from the line but hit 5-6 down the stretch and came up with some big defensive stops including two in the final 21 seconds and an open missed three from Lamar Patterson.
If there was any doubt left that McAdoo has shaken off the labels placed on him after two plus seasons of not "living up" to the expectations, there shouldn't be now. McAdoo finished the game with 24 points and 12 rebounds. McAdoo's energy and aggressiveness has been key to UNC's recent winning streak. The words "clutch" and "big shot" can be attached to McAdoo as well. While Marcus Paige's three second half threes and 18 points were obviously important, McAdoo's offensive stretch once Pitt got within striking distance was him raising his level of play in a way he really hasn't done consistently. Likewise Brice Johnson's 13 points, 7 rebounds and five blocks were critical. His defense at times still is lacking but with Kennedy Meeks mostly ineffective, Johnson's outing was a necessary component.
Speaking of defense, UNC had some lapses but overall this team has certainly grasped the identity of being a high level defensive team. With UNC leading 68-65, Pitt has two straight possessions with a chance to draw closer or even tie. Johnson's blocked shot and a missed three by Cameron Wright kept the Panthers at bay. In addition the Heels did a great job cleaning up the defensive glass on this possessions.The biggest issue UNC faced down the stretch was fouls on the defensive end. UNC put Pitt on the line five times in the final minute affording the Panthers the opportunity to score. UNC's defensive free throw rate is the one glaring point of concern in an otherwise stellar looking defensive profile. Also of note was the play of J.P. Tokoto and Isaiah Hicks against Lamar Patterson. Pitt's leading scorer went 5-15 on the day and Tokoto's was critical in making that happen.
A little less than a month ago, UNC dropped to 1-4 after a double-digit loss at Virginia. The dirt was being thrown on the team as headed for the NIT. Since then UNC has won six straight games. Five of those came against teams UNC should have beaten and none of them would be considered impressive. While Pitt doesn't have a resume of big wins, this is a team looks very good on paper and has played well against good teams while dealing hiccups against inferior ones(see: Virginia Tech.) Whatever the case, it is unmistakable that this Tar Heel team has seized on the formula for success and is rolling at a time when the schedule is offering some of the stiffest challenges of the conference portion of the slate.