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UNC Basketball: Tar Heels fall short of getting revenge on Pittsburgh, 64-65

UNC suffers its first home loss of the season.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels were shut down offensively and couldn’t string together enough good possessions to keep the Pittsburgh Panthers at bay, and Pitt’s Jamarius Burton hit the game-winning free throws with 3.4 seconds left to complete his team’s season sweep of the Heels with a 65-64 win. It was the Heels’ first loss at home this season.

The game was a brickfest early, with both teams starting 1/5 from the field before both stringing together a couple of field goals, including early three-pointers from Caleb Love and Pete Nance. Those triples helped UNC open up a 9-5 lead early, and the margin wouldn’t change much until there were about 8 minutes left in the game, when a cold streak for UNC coincided with Pitt’s Nelly Cummings getting hot, and he led his team on a 10-0 run that ended with them taking their first lead of the game with about five minutes to go.

Both teams jockeyed for small leads for the rest of the half, and the teams went to the locker room with Pitt up one, 34-33. Love and Nance, who had started off the scoring for the Heels, were the bulk of the offense early, with 13 and 9 points respectively. The bigger stories were Armando Bacot, who was getting frustrated by Pitt’s double teams and had just 6 points on 1/5 shooting from the field, and R.J. Davis, who seemed to have re-injured the shooting finger he’d dislocated to start the season in addition to his recovery from the eye injury he sustained against Syracuse, had just 3 points on 1/7 shooting from the field. On the other end, Cummings was Pitt’s engine, with 12 points on 5/6 from the floor.

The second half started more or less how the first did, with both teams struggling to hit shots. The Heels made more of an effort to get Bacot the ball, but he had two shots blocked before picking up a bucket in transition. The game also started getting chippy, culminating with double technicals assigned to Davis and Cummings, then Leaky Black earning his 3rd and 4th fouls in quick succession and being forced to the bench.

The Heels briefly used that energy to make a mini-run at the lead, and went up by as much as six. But it’s a game of runs, and Cummings came back with a huge one of his own, hitting three straight triples to turn a six-point deficit into a three-point lead that quickly became seven as star Jamarius Burton, who’d been held in check to that point, started taking the scoring reins. From there, the Heels tried to chip away at the lead, and finally, a Bacot and-1 and a Caleb Love triple — UNC’s first made triple of the half — tied the game headed into the under-4 timeout.

Cummings collected two fouls in 15 seconds for his 4th and 5th, fouling out and seemingly portending good things for the Heels in a tight game. RJ Davis, with an opportunity to re-tie it up from the line with under 2 minutes to go, could only hit one of his free throws. On the next possession, Bacot got another opportunity to tie or take the lead, and hit both, giving his team a 1-point lead and the ball with 45 seconds to play. Unfortunately, he’d turn the ball over trying to get out of another double team on UNC’s next possession, and Pitt had a chance to take the lead back with 23 seconds left. Burton drew a foul while driving on Davis, and hit both free throws to sink the Heels.

Love was the only real bright spot on offense for UNC, scoring 22 points on 8/18 (4/11 from 3) and adding 6 rebounds. Nance had 13 on 6/14, and Bacot, mostly working from the free throw line, added 15 and 11 rebounds.

The Heels will have to regroup and sharpen up ahead of Saturday’s rivalry matchup in Durham.