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UNC’s NCAA Tournament chances circle the drain after embarrassing loss to Pitt

Thanks, I hate it.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen some ugly UNC games this season, dear reader, but tonight was a special level of hell for the Tar Heels. Carolina really turned the offense on in the last few minutes of the game, but it was ultimately too little, too late. UNC dropped the game 76-67.

The Tar Heels had been sitting firmly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, and a (likely) Quad 4 loss to Pitt could very well put a nail in the coffin of their chances of playing after the ACC Tournament unless they find a way to win it all in Brooklyn next month.

Pitt dominated the first half as they raced out to a 40-23 lead at halftime. UNC shot just 28% from the field in the first half as the Panthers shot 60% and scored half of their points (20) directly off Tar Heel turnovers. The lead ballooned to as many as 21 in the second half and UNC was in catchup mode for pretty much the entire game.

The Tar Heels were the better shooting team in the second half, out-scoring Pitt 44-36 and shooting 55% from the field. Both teams suffered from not protecting the ball with 24 points coming off turnovers for UNC and 22 points off Carolina turnovers for Pitt. Pitt had the cushion to make up for it, and UNC simply did not.

Carolina got the game to within six late, thanks mostly to Caleb Love really hitting his stride after struggling something fierce for most of the game. Love finished the game as the Heels’ leading scorer with 19. Fifteen of his points came after halftime. Kerwin Walton was a huge reason they were even close enough to make it vaguely interesting with 11 points on three three-pointers. Brady Manek was the lone Tar Heel to record a double-double with Armando Bacot facing foul trouble to limit his minutes. Leaky Black also had another very solid game with 11 points and six rebounds with just one turnover.

A lot has been made about UNC’s lack of depth and production off the bench. Carolina got 15 points from their bench, mostly out of Walton, while Pitt saw their bench score just four points from guys outside their starting lineup. Ithiel Horton hit all five of his threes on his way to 19 points to lead the Panthers. Despite the fact that three of Pitt’s starters were in foul trouble, they all remained in the game to keep causing havoc for Carolina’s defense.

At this point, any light at the end of the tunnel may very well be a train. I suppose there is some chance that everything shakes out as such that UNC finds a way to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, and winning on Saturday at Virginia Tech certainly feels mandatory to make that even possible. All of that very much feels like trying to polish that which cannot be polished at this point so there isn’t much point in dwelling on it for too long.

Carolina will try and hang onto the ship a bit longer when they travel to Blacksburg for a 4:00 pm tip against the Hokies.