The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday March 28th

After "turning the corner," UNC men's basketball falls back to square one following Pitt loss

UNC senior forward Armando Bacot (5) prepares to pass the ball during the men's basketball game against Georgia Tech in the Dean Smith Center on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. UNC beat Georgia Tech 75-59.
Buy Photos UNC senior forward Armando Bacot (5) prepares to pass the ball during the men's basketball game against Georgia Tech in the Dean Smith Center on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. UNC beat Georgia Tech 75-59.

After a four-game winning streak, Armando Bacot thought the No. 25 North Carolina men's basketball team had turned a corner. 

When UNC led Pittsburgh 55-46 with 12 minutes left in the second half on Friday, the corner seemed to be far in the rearview mirror as the team seemed primed to pick up its second conference win of the season.

But by the end of the game, when the Panthers pulled ahead and held the Tar Heels to just 33.3 percent shooting in the second half, the senior center was left cursing his team’s performance in a 76-74 upset loss.

“Playing at a school like North Carolina, you gotta go out there and just want to win,” Bacot said. “I guess we didn’t care.”

In the early stages of the game, the Tar Heels seemed to be thriving on both ends of the court. Offensively, UNC looked to feed Bacot in the post early and often. 

Not only did this help Bacot score 22 points, but as head coach Hubert Davis noted, Pitt’s attempts to double-team the preseason ACC Player of the Year created open shots for the rest of the team. Bacot drew multiple defenders in his direction and the Tar Heels made the Panthers pay, knocking down six 3-point attempts in the first half. 

The second half was a different story — the open looks were there, but the proficiency was not.

“In the second half, it was twice we had layups and wide open threes to go up (in) double figures,” Davis said. “We were getting consistent shots for Armando near the basket, and that was generating shots for our perimeter players. We just didn’t make the shots.”

When its initial plans fizzled out, Pitt went to the pick-and-roll, allowing its perimeter players to attack North Carolina one-on-one late in the shot clock.

The pick-and-roll attack generated many shots at the rim for the Panthers, helping them outscore UNC 42-26 in the paint and contributing to their 17 free throw attempts.

“We took a step back in our discipline and details,” Davis said. “We took a step back defensively. We took a step back in the consistency of doing that for long stretches.”

Pitt guard Jamarius Burton scored a game-high 31 points. Davis admitted the Tar Heels had no match for Burton’s size and speed, as he drove to the rim whenever he wanted.

But on a Burton drive which gave Pitt its first lead since the start of the game, sophomore guard D’Marco Dunn fell for Burton’s shot fake and jumped. Burton drew the foul, made the shot, and converted at the free throw line to give Pitt a 63-62 lead — its first of the half.

Davis also pointed to two instances where UNC fouled on 3-point attempts and lamented how often Pitt scored off Tar Heel mistakes. UNC executed the game plan, but it failed to execute the details.

“It’s one, two or three plays that let the momentum back in their favor,” graduate forward Pete Nance said. “Being able to clean that up, staying solid and not getting complacent with the lead you have — that’s something we can get better at.”

A step back on details and discipline is concerning for a team which can no longer afford losses like Friday's.

The preseason No. 1 team is now 9-5. Dreams of a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament have likely all but vanished, and if UNC’s inconsistent form continues, qualifying for the tournament at all may become a challenge.

Even so, Nance believes this loss is a step back only if the team allows it to be. Davis agrees.

“Even though you take a step back, that allows you to be in a position to take steps forward,” Davis said. “That’s my expectation, to take steps forward so that this doesn’t happen again.”  


@dthsports |

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