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UNC vs. Pitt: Three Things Learned

Carolina fails to step on Pitt’s neck and pays the price.

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

Carolina continued their puzzling habit of losing games they have no business losing in December. Whether it’s under Roy Williams or Hubert Davis, the Tar Heels can reliably lose head scratchers during the holidays.

With the momentum from the four-game winning streak after the previous four-game slide now gone, here are three things learned from UNC’s return to conference play.

Carolina needs to figure out how to close games

I don’t want to sound like a sore loser, but Pitt didn’t really do anything to win this game. Carolina was the superior team but instead of putting away the Panthers, they played with their food too long and let the game slip out of their hands.

UNC went up by 8 or more points nine times in the game, including holding a +9 margin in the second half. Whether it’s lack of focus on the defensive end, careless turnovers, poor shots, or all of the above, Carolina needs to figure out how to transform 8 point leads into 15-20 point leads. Pitt was able to shrink leads to +4 constantly, keeping within touching distance.

Jamarius Burton was an absolute maniac, putting up 31 points on an extremely efficient 14-17 shooting night. Burton didn’t take bad shots, and used his size to post-up a variety of Tar Heel guards.

Carolina can’t get in the habit of letting one man beat them. It’s a great way to pile up undeserved losses and a potentially early March exit.

What is a foul?

This was an atrociously officiated game. The variance between what was allowed to pass in the paint versus some of the calls that Carolina was whistled for in transition was maddeningly inconsistent.

Also, the Tar Heels had 16 fouls called on them compared to 14 for Pitt. This was just the third time that Carolina has out-fouled their opponent (the Heels fouled once more than Alabama and JMU) which should raise some red flags.

Carolina doesn’t get called for fouls all that much because they don’t generally, you know... foul. Quality opponents can score without issue, and Armando Bacot is not a lummox who tries to block a lot of shots.

Puff Johnson, no doubt in the mood to show out to his hometown fans, accumulated three fouls in under three minutes of court action. Leaky Black got called for the absolute worst charge call you’ll see all season:

First things first, this crew should come under some scrutiny for their officiating performance. But secondly, the Heels have to be mentally tough enough to shake off bad calls and play their game.

Heels need a Big 3

Armando Bacot may end up becoming ACC player of the year and an All-American. That will still not be enough to carry Carolina all by himself. Bacot was excellent, getting another double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds.

RJ Davis chipped in 17 points, but like the rest of the starters, was not efficient shooting the ball. Caleb Love was almost a ghost, only scoring 7 points, including the banked in 3-pointer at the end of the game to set up the interesting game ending.

Whether it’s Love, Pete Nance, a bench player, or even Leaky Black (who had 9 points!), UNC absolutely must get another player to help Bacot carry the load. Carolina is at its best when danger comes from multiple angles.

When teams double and triple-team Bacot and perimeter players are banging in 3-pointers, or when Bacot can pass through the high post (he had three assists yesterday on cuts to the rim from the foul line), it gives defenses more problems to solve. If Bacot is hot, then by all means, feed him the ball until teams can stop him. But if they do, UNC needs someone else to pick up the slack. Yesterday, they did not.