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UNC struggles to close with no answer for Jamarius Burton late in loss to Pittsburgh

One step forward, two steps back.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

UNC led their game against Pittsburgh for all but three minutes and 50 seconds. Unfortunately, they spotting the Panthers a stretch of over five minutes in which they didn’t score from the field, and Jamarius Burton put up 31 points to hand Carolina a loss in their final game of 2022.

It looked for a long stretch of time that Pitt would be unable to find an answer for Armando Bacot down low. The Carolina big man scored 22 points to lead the Heels, and he was proficient in getting his defender to commit a foul as they tried to contain him. UNC held a 40-34 halftime lead that they never found a way to extend past nine.

The second half was a struggle. UNC managed to shoot just 33% from the field while Pitt, thanks in no small part to Burton’s 7-8, shot 50% after halftime. Caleb Love had just three points in the second half, and those came extremely late. Pete Nance, who started the game hot, scored just one bucket in the second half.

RJ Davis was the only Tar Heel other than Bacot (22) and Nance (10) to reach double figures with 16 points. Leaky Black finished the game with nine points and nine rebounds. D’Marco Dunn, back from injury, chipped in five points off the bench in extended minutes.

In a close game where you struggle to put an opponent away, all the little things become more glaring. Pitt got 12 points off the 11 UNC turnovers. Burton played the game of his career, and you can tip your cap to him for that, but it’s extremely frustrating that we seem to be on the receiving end of those games so often. Puff Johnson was virtually a non-factor after he was whistled for three fouls in less than three minutes.

These post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s games have a bit of a trap feel. It’s also the second year in a row that UNC probably should have beaten a Pitt team and didn’t. Maybe it ends up not mattering in the grand scheme of things, but if it does, they’ll certainly feel like a win was in their grasp if they had just been able to finish.

UNC’s first game of 2023 will be Wednesday against Wake Forest in Chapel Hill.