From there, both teams battled for every loose ball, long rebound and tough basket. Louisville dominated down low — outscoring North Carolina, 26-12, in the paint — but the Tar Heels still managed to carry a 33-30 lead into the break.
North Carolina stretched its lead to 40-33 to start the second half, but the Cardinals didn't go quietly. A 7-0 Louisville run tied things up at 40 with just over 16 minutes left in the game, and Cardinal guard Donovan Mitchell seemed to find his shooting stroke after a 2-for-7 first half.
But again the Tar Heels were able to create some space, as a number of free throws and a Pinson 3-pointer gave them a 51-43 lead at the under-12 timeout. UNC extended its lead to 57-45 over the next four minutes.
The Tar Heels stretched things out to 66-49 with less than four minutes left in the game. Louisville stormed back and cut the deficit to eight with a minute and a half left, but the margin was too large to make up in such a short period.
Who stood out?
For the eighth time in nine games, Justin Jackson led the Tar Heels in scoring, racking up 21 points on the night. But unlike his performance against Virginia on Saturday — when the sophomore wing put up 18 in the first half — he spread his contributions out a little more evenly against the Cardinals.
He scored 10 in the opening half but shot just 3-of-8 from the field and turned the ball over twice. Jackson didn't shoot wildly better in the second period, but her ironed out some of the mistakes and hit some timely shots to hold onto momentum down the stretch.
When was it decided?
Louisville cut the game to 67-59 with 1:30 remaining, but some solid free-throw shooting from Nate Britt and Joel Berry iced the game and allowed UNC to keep its undefeated home record.
Why does it matter?
More than anything, this game creates separation at the top of the ACC standings. A win would have vaulted the Cardinals into first place. But a Tar Heel win, coupled with a Duke loss at Syracuse tonight, gives UNC a two-game lead with three games left in the regular season.
Where do they play next?
The Tar Heels play Pittsburgh on the road Saturday. The game will tip at noon.