There was some worry about this game. It had all the trappings of a potential loss to a team well below Carolina’s talent level, the kind which seems to happen at least once a season: Noon game on the road against a team that has been dangerous if not consistently good. Throw in the fact that it was sandwiched between two much bigger games, the Louisville win and the Monday night matchup at Virginia, and this looked like nearly the definition of a trap game. This late in the season, though, every game is big, and the UNC Tar Heels went into the Petersen Arena and took care of business against the Pittsburgh Panthers, winning 85-67.
The game was back-and forth for some time in the first half, as Pittsburgh jumped out to an early 16-11 lead behind a couple of big shots before UNC caught up and took the lead behind a Joel Berry 3-pointer that put them up 19-17. From then on, UNC never trailed, as every time Pitt looked ready to make a run, the Heels were able to quell it behind some timely jump shots and interior domination. Justin Jackson was in fine form, scoring 23 points on 9-20 shooting (5-11 from behind the arc), and Kennedy Meeks was right behind him, collecting another double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Joel Berry had a bit of a comeback game, scoring 19 points on 4-9 three-point shooting and not turning the ball over. He was able to consistently break down the Pittsburgh defense and let his teammates take advantage of this. His stats don’t reflect this, as he was only credited with 2 assists, but he ran the offense as well as he’s done this season. Joining those three in double figures was Tony Bradley, who added 10 points and 6 rebounds (4 offensive).
The story of the game, by and large, was rebounding. UNC took advantage of Pittsburgh’s lack of size and depth in the interior, and the frontcourt combination of Meeks, Bradley, Isaiah Hicks, and Luke Maye had 27 rebounds, just one fewer than Pitt had as a team. In total, UNC outrebounded the Panthers by 20, including a season-high 24 offensive rebounds on 40 missed shots. When you’re rebounding 60% of your own misses, there’s a good chance you’re controlling the game.
A statistical story that won’t get as much attention as UNC’s rebounding is UNC’s passing. With 23 assists on 33 made baskets, it was clear that the UNC offense was in sync for the entire game. Hicks had a Theo Pinsonesque statline of 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists, while Theo Pinson himself had 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 7 assists.
Pitt has a couple of very talented scorers in Jamel Artis and Michael Young, who each scored 17 points (and that’s below both of their season averages). Chris Jones added 10 for the Panthers, who only made 19 field goals during the entire game. While they were hot from 3-point land for a little bit, ended up only shooting 29.4% from behind the arc. UNC’s defense was excellent once again, holding Pittsburgh to under 40% shooting from the field and forcing 12 turnovers in a very slow-paced game. This bodes well for the Tar Heels as they gear up for the postseason.
The Heels now face a short turnaround as they prepare to play Virginia at Charlottesville on Monday night.