Last night’s 70-57 victory over Pitt was significant for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Hubert Davis’s first win against Pittsburgh snapped a three-game losing streak to the Panthers.
However, this victory was unlike any of the previous nine seen this season. It was ugly and tough and forced the Tar Heels to find different contributors.
But at the start of a three-game road trip in conference play, this is the type of win that springboards a team to the next level.
Here are a few things learned about Carolina from last night’s win at Pitt.
Excluding the win over Charleston Southern, this is the first time UNC has outrebounded its opponent since the comeback victory over Florida State.
Coming into this game, the scouting report showed rebounding would be an important factor for the Tar Heels. The Panthers lead the ACC in rebounding (42.15) and rebounding margin (+9.23).
The 51-41 rebounding edge for Carolina was even more impressive, considering Pitt held opponents to 32 rebounds per game.
In the early going, it was apparent that it was going to be a battle in the paint all night. Pitt had three blocks to start the game, and the rebounding edge was heavily in the Panthers’ favor.
But the Tar Heels stuck with it.
Harrison Ingram had a game that showed his true character.
Despite missing his first 12 shots of the game and his 22-game streak of double-digit scoring coming to an end, Ingram did not let his offensive woes derail the other facets of his game.
Ingram played aggressive but smart defense. He was called for just one foul all night.
Ingram’s most impressive play came on the glass. He pulled down 15 rebounds, a career-high for the junior who has competed in 78 collegiate games.
To bolster the rebounding effort, Armando Bacot tallied his first double-digit rebounding performance in three games.
One of the biggest imbalances in the scoring analysis was second-chance points. Carolina finished with a 15-1 advantage, with Pitt’s lone second-chance point coming on a free throw in the second half.
In a game with struggles on the offensive side of the court, rebounding becomes even more important in creating second-chance opportunities and denying those for the opponent.
These two players set the example on the glass.
Only four Tar Heels came off the bench last night, the fewest since four subs versus UConn and three off the bench against Arkansas.
Davis has shortened his bench to start the true conference slate. And what a time to do it with the offensive struggles in the first half.
One of those reserves was key to overcoming a six-minute scoreless drought to start the game and hit the locker rooms with a 31-28 halftime lead.
At the 12:12 mark of the first half, Seth Trimble checked in and made an impact with a bucket and three rebounds in six minutes of relief work.
Trimble checked back in two minutes later and got the alley-oop on the ensuing possession.
Then hit a three on the next offensive possession.
Then stole the ball from Pitt on the next possession.
Then, a minute and a half later, he missed a shot, got his own rebound, put up another shot, got that rebound, and drew a foul.
Trimble nailed both free throws, and finished with nine points and five rebounds in 10 minutes of work in the first half.
Trimble did not do as much in the second half but still finished with 23 minutes of work off the bench — a significant contribution.
Jae’lyn Withers provided a spark on both ends of the floor and gave Ingram some much-needed rest in the second half.
Most of Wither’s 12 minutes came in the second half, and he finished with six points and three rebounds. Wither’s three fouls in the second half, however, were not ideal.
Complete game contributors off the bench are even more important during a game where the ball is not going through the hoop as expected.
It will not be these two every night, but the Tar Heels will need solid minutes from the sixth and seventh men, especially on this tough road trip.
Toughness and Persistence
A lot of UNC fans were thinking this same thought during the second half:
This take will be the same win or lose, but #UNC being willing to be this physical with a team like Pitt makes me even more optimistic about how far this team can go. I've been impressed.— Tar Heel Blog (@tarheelblog) January 3, 2024
The latter portion of the first half best demonstrated the statement above.
Carolina started the game with great energy on the defensive end of the floor. However, Pitt matched that energy and perfectly executed their defensive game plan from the tip.
It seemed like it was going to be one of those nights.
However, UNC kept the energy high and did not shy away from driving the ball and trying to work the post.
This persistence on offense is encouraging since Carolina can be so dangerous when there is ball movement and the offense flows inside out.
Eventually, some buckets started to fall while the defense remained tough, especially against Blake Hinson. Carolina was able to force a 12-shot drought for Pitt and enter the locker room with a narrow lead.
During the second half, the Tar Heels had some success in the post, highlighted by some Bacot and Withers dunks.
UNC’s second-half shooting improved to 42 percent, closer to the season average of 47 percent.
Pitt’s field goal percentage went from 35 percent in the first half to just 26 percent in the second half. Credit goes to the Carolina defenders.
UNC played tough all night, and stuck to the game plan despite some struggles.