The first play of the game was a terrible omen for UNC. After an aborted tip, the second try led to Pitt's Cameron Wright getting behind Nate Britt for an open layup. Pitt would turn 2-0 into 10-0 on an assortment of easy looks as the Tar Heels struggled on the defensive end. UNC eventually righted the ship and a Marcus Paige three with 11:45 left in the half knotted the game at 16 apiece. Then came the first of six Pitt threes in the first half and the Panthers continued to seemingly hit everything they shot to take a commanding 48-34 lead at the break.
It should be noted at this point in the game UNC had not played poorly on the offensive end. The Tar Heels shot 54% in the first half and only turned the ball over three times. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson had combined for 21 points and the offensive efficiency was 110.4 which was below average but by no means awful. Pitt, on the other hand, shot 61% in the first half and had an offensive efficiency of 150.9. While the defense didn't play well, giving up those kinds of numbers is generally a combination of a suspect defense and the opposing team playing several levels above normal.
Anyone who has watched college basketball long enough know that a team playing really well in one half is not unusual. The expectation when one team plays that well before halftime the ensuing half will see some regression to the mean. It didn't happen. Pitt came out of the locker room and hit its first seven shots to extend the Panther lead to 63-45. At the same time, UNC was the team that cooled off with the Tar Heels' offense sputtering while the Panthers continued to hit any and every shot. The Pitt lead eventually hit as much as 23 points before a late rally by the Heels make is final deficit of 13.
This loss is frustrating on a variety of levels. The offensive numbers say UNC should have won the game. The Heels shot 49.2% from the floor and scored over 70 points which has been the magical numbers for this team. UNC was 16-0 this season when scoring 70 or more points. 25 assists on 29 made shots, four turnovers and an offensive efficiency of 126.2 is a good day offensively with the 14-23 free throw shooting being the only real issue.
When the other team is shooting lights out, the rest of it doesn't matter. Obviously UNC's defense has been suffering over the past several games. The loss of Theo Pinson and some regression from J.P. Tokoto has hurt the defense not to mention, the combination of Isaiah Hicks and Brice Johnson is not ideal defensively. All that being said, Pittsbugh hit the shots open and otherwise. Granted open looks are easier to hit and ones near the rim certainly are but there was a point the Panthers' shooting acumen reached a level of absurdity that bore against the grain of probability. UNC simply playing poor defense likely results in a team like Pitt shooting just over 50% and being more efficient than average. This was that and then some.
Brice Johnson led UNC with 19 points and Kennedy Meeks came off the bench to score 15 in just 19 minutes. No other Tar Heels hit double figures. Marcus Paige scored 8 points and has 6 assists but shot 3-11. Joel Berry, who started the second half in place of Nate Britt, scored 8 points and dished out six assists versus zero turnovers.
At this stage it's next to impossible to get a grasp where this team is at in terms of identity and mentally. While the second half versus Louisville may seem like an arbitrary point the it certainly feels like losing that game after having an 18 point lead sent this team into a bit of a tailspin. The injuries and lack of practice have likely made the normal progress historically seen in Roy Williams' teams more difficult to attain.
Ultimately, UNC had a bad day while Pitt had its best of the season. The season is far from over and an opportunity presents itself on Wednesday night to effectively cancel out this loss with a top five win on the road.