The North Carolina men’s basketball team (18-8, 10-5 ACC) fell to Pittsburgh (11-16, 6-10 ACC), 76-67, giving the Tar Heels their second loss at home this season.
Graduate forward Brady Manek scored an early 3-pointer, followed by a quick put-back in the Tar Heels’ first possessions of the game. Just over three minutes in, Pittsburgh had already tallied three turnovers. Still, the Panthers grabbed a bucket from behind the arc and two free throws to keep up with UNC. The game stayed tight, but a basket from sophomore Caleb Love and a three by senior Leaky Black put UNC up 12-8.
Junior big man Armando Bacot had a solid block in the backcourt, but consecutive made jumpers by Pittsburgh followed by a fastbreak layup and a 3-pointer gave Pitt a 17-12 lead. Love responded with a bucket to break the Panthers’ run. Sophomore guard RJ Davis had a steal with a fastbreak opportunity, but Pitt had a successful charge call, then Pitt guard Ithiel Horton scored back-to-back threes to give the Panthers their biggest lead of the game. Coming off of a timeout, Pitt increased its lead to 26-14 with another three. Not even a minute later, the Panthers sank another.
The Panthers couldn’t miss from behind the arc, shooting 6-9 with just under six minutes to go in the half. The Tar Heels’ five-and-a-half minute scoring drought did not aid their case. Manek scored a jumper to end the drought, and Black netted a three, but Pittsburgh responded with with two buckets on the other end to keep a 14-point lead.
At halftime, the Panthers led 40-23. Pitt had 20 points off of turnovers, versus UNC’s nine, and Pitt was shooting 56 percent from the field and 67 percent from behind the arc. The Tar Heels were shooting just 28percent overall and 21 percent from the three.
The second half started slowly, with neither team scoring until Manek made a free throw three minutes into the half. Pittsburgh responded with a 3-pointer, and Bacot made a layup immediately after. Black converted an and-1 layup, and Manek scored a layup to bring the score to 45-31.
The Panthers got off a three just before the shot clock buzzer, and made the and-1 free throw to bring their lead to 17 with about 14 minutes left to play. Pitt briefly took a 20-point lead, but a dunk from Bacot disrupted it. However, after another three from Horton, as well as a dunk and a couple of free throws, Pitt took a 21-point lead – their largest of the game.
Consecutive 3-pointers by sophomore guard Kerwin Walton cut the lead to 13 and got the crowd pumped with about seven minutes to play. Pitt made a bucket down low to secure a 15-point lead, but a steal and fast-break layup by Davis cut it back down.
In the last five minutes, Love scored 14 points. With two and a half minutes left, Love sank two free throws to put the Tar Heels within eight points of the Panthers. Manek made a layup, bringing the score to 69-63. A successful and-1 for Pitt followed by a bucket from Love put the score at 72-65 with just over a minute to go. The Tar Heels could not make a comeback, though, finishing the game 76-67.
Who stood out?
Love led the team with 19 points, including several to keep the Tar Heels within reach at the end. Manek had a double-double, tallying 10 rebounds and 12 points. While Bacot struggled down low, he had a strong defensive showing, with eight rebounds and four blocks.
For Pittsburgh, Horton led the team with 19 points. He was unstoppable from the 3-point line, going 5-5 while also snagging five rebounds.
When was it decided?
Pitt held a significant lead for a majority of the game. The Panthers scored a free throw to take a 21-point lead with just over nine minutes left in the game. While the Tar Heels made an impressive comeback attempt, they could not cut the lead to below six points from that point forward.
Why does it matter?
With the Panthers entering the game as one of the bottom five teams in the ACC, this game was an important one to win if UNC had hopes of making the tournament. This loss will make the remaining five games crucial for Tar Heels if they have any hope of continuing to play in March.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will travel to Blacksburg, Va. to face Virginia Tech on Saturday, Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.
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