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UNC men's basketball snaps four-game win streak with road loss to Pittsburgh

20221221 - UNC MEN'S BASKETBALL VS. MICHIGAN @ JUMPMAN INVITATIO
UNC senior forward/center Armando Bacot (5) dribbles the ball during the men's basketball game against Michigan at the Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022.

In its first conference game since Dec. 10, the No. 25 North Carolina men’s basketball team (9-5, 1-2 ACC) was upset by Pittsburgh (10-4, 3-0 ACC) by a score of 76-74.

What happened?

UNC’s four-game win streak featured a greater reliance on senior center Armando Bacot. This trend continued on Friday, with Bacot’s teammates looking for him on early post-ups and the preseason National Player of the Year bullied his matchup and cleaned the glass.

Bacot’s first half ended with 10 points and nine rebounds, including five offensive rebounds. Combined with a three-point barrage — UNC shot 6-13 from deep in the first half — the Tar Heels controlled the game early, starting the game with an 11-0 run and leading 26-17 midway through the first half.

Pitt bit back with a spaced-out, pick-and-roll offense that allowed its players to attack UNC’s perimeter defenders one-on-one. Panther guard Jamarius Burton benefitted most with 15 first-half points on 7-9 shooting. Pitt tied the game at 30 before UNC took the lead again and ended the half up 40-34.

UNC continued to create open 3-point shots whenever Pitt sent a double team to Bacot in the post. But the shots wouldn’t fall, and the Tar Heels went 1-9 from three in the second half.

Pitt continued its relentless one-on-one attack to stay in the game, and soon, the Panthers broke through. Guard Nike Sibande sparked the momentum shift with a drive and finish over junior guard Caleb Love to make it 57-53. Another Sibande drive collapsed the UNC defense, creating an open 3-pointer for Nelly Cummings to make it 57-56.

Two straight Bacot post scores could not stop Pitt’s momentum. Burton drove on first-year D’Marco Dunn, baited a contest from Dunn on the shot fake, drew the foul and scored to tie the game at 62. 

Burton converted the and-one to give Pitt their first lead since the first minute of the first half. 

With graduate forward Pete Nance out of the game, Pitt forward Blake Hinson got a mismatch and hit a 3-point jumper over Dunn to give Pitt the lead at 70-67 with 1:28 left.

UNC failed to respond on the next possession, as Love stepped out of bounds with 1:03 left to give the Panthers the ball back. After 40 seconds of trading free throws, Davis missed a pull-up three-pointer. Pitt immediately scored on the fast break to make it 76-69 with 9.3 seconds left, effectively ending the game.

Who stood out?

Burton’s ruthless rim attacks helped him set a personal career high with 31 points. His success was key to Pitt’s strategy of stretching the floor, taking Bacot away from the paint so the Panthers could attack the rim.

Bacot continued his work as the Tar Heels’ scoring outlet. Not only did his 22 points and 13 rebounds keep the Tar Heels in the game, but his gravity in the post created open shots.

When was it decided?

UNC attempted an improbable comeback with Love getting a quick 3-pointer, forcing a turnover off an inbounds play and first-year wing Tyler Nickel with a quick layup to make it 76-74 with a couple of seconds on the clock, but the flicker proved too little and too late.

Why does it matter?

With this upset, North Carolina falls to 1-2 in ACC play and had its four-game win streak snapped. The Tar Heels were hoping for revenge after a loss to Pitt in February almost dashed their 2021-22 postseason hopes, but instead, they will leave Pittsburgh empty-handed.

Friday was a test for a troubled UNC defense, but it was no match for a Pitt offense who used its pick-and-roll offense to bully its way to the rim, outscoring UNC in the paint 42-26 and getting 17 attempts at the free throw line.

Until Love’s late three-pointer to make it 76-72, UNC had scored only 14 points in the last 12 minutes of the second half. An over-reliance on Bacot for offense may be something head coach Hubert Davis looks to fix.

When do they play next?

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North Carolina will attempt to get past its ACC woes when it returns to Chapel Hill and faces Wake Forest on Jan. 4 at 9 p.m.

@dmtwumasi

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com