The unranked UNC Tar Heels defended their home court and earned a tough 75-71 victory against the No. 25 Pittsburgh Panthers during a Saturday afternoon clash between ACC foes.
It was a dramatic contest that came right down to the wire. Heels fans had to sweat this one out, as Luke DeCock of the News & Observer pointed out:
Neither team had a significant advantage in any box score category, but the home crowd played a large role in willing its side to a win.
Heels supporters pulled off a successful “Stripe Out,” making the sections of the Smith Center appear alternating colors of white and Carolina blue. ACC/UNC sports reporter Matt Oakes posted a picture of the crowd:
North Carolina took a 35-31 advantage into the locker room at halftime and would not relinquish that lead for the remainder of the contest. The Tar Heels went on a 7-0 run midway through the second half to make it 53-44, which ended up sealing Pitt's fate.
While the Panthers surged back with a 12-2 run later in the half, it wasn’t enough to avoid a loss that will likely drop them from the rankings on Monday.
It was the first and only meeting of the 2013-14 campaign between these opponents, barring a potential matchup in the upcoming conference or NCAA tournaments.
Let's take a look at some of the top performers from this matchup.
James Michael McAdoo, F, UNC: A+
Ever since he arrived on campus at Chapel Hill, McAdoo has oozed upside. He’s been inconsistent in realizing that potential, but he was certainly locked in and playing well on Saturday.
Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated heaped praise upon the young man for his heroics:
The 6’9” junior paced the Tar Heels with a double-double, scoring 24 points and snagging 12 rebounds. It was an elite performance from the power forward, who connected on 11 of his 18 field-goal attempts and also added a steal on the day.
Pittsburgh simply didn’t have an answer for McAdoo in this one, and it was a big part of why the team wasn’t able to emerge with a win on the road.
Lamar Patterson, F, Pittsburgh: C+
Patterson is the Panthers' top scorer and often must shoulder the load for his team, but UNC's defense stymied him in this game.
The senior forward could not get it going in Chapel Hill, hitting just five of his 15 attempts from the field and three of his nine attempts from beyond the arc. That paltry shooting performance definitely cost his side in the close contest, as an extra bucket or two would have made all the difference.
DeCock noted that it was a tough day for one of the conference’s premier talents:
Don’t discredit Patterson’s efforts, however, as the 6’5” swingman did everything he could to keep Pitt in it. He finished the day with 16 points, four rebounds, four steals, two assists and a block, but it wasn’t enough in the end.
Marcus Paige, G, UNC: A
When Paige is dialed in, good things tend to happen for UNC. The star sophomore couldn’t miss from deep against Pittsburgh, connecting on five out of six three-point attempts on his way to an 18-point performance.
The 6’1” guard also contributed in a big way on defense, using his quick hands to swipe four steals and help force the Panthers into a good number of their 14 turnovers.
In addition to those points and steals, Paige contributed four rebounds and four assists, turning in an overall solid performance in the UNC win.
Before the game, Paige noted that he tends to play better in second halves and told Eli Kaberon of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports), "I have been a little bit more aggressive (after halftime). But it's not like I'm not trying to produce or be aggressive in the first half. ... When you look at the numbers, it is kind of crazy."
However, it was McAdoo who stood out in the second half and put the team on his back down the stretch in the final 20 minutes.
The Tar Heels improved to 17-7 (7-4 ACC) on the year with their sixth straight win. They will look to strike out on the road and continue that streak with a pivotal matchup against Florida State in Tallahassee on Monday.
UNC head coach Roy Williams is doing wonders with this roster, and it finally seems to be firing on all cylinders. However, his squad cannot overlook this next opponent. It’s a battle between ACC teams currently in the middle of the pack, as the unranked Seminoles are sitting at 14-10 (5-7 ACC) and looking to bolster their resume ahead of the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, falls to 20-6 (8-5 ACC) and is going to have to lick its wounds after being humbled Saturday.
The Panthers are going to need to run the table the rest of the regular season if they want to have any shot at earning a high seed in the NCAA tourney. They're unlikely to see a ranked opponent until the ACC tournament, and the team will have to win out—or come close—to get back into the Top 25 rankings ahead of March Madness.
Pitt can get a start on that quest by returning home and taking the week off before hosting the ‘Noles on Feb. 23. It’s a winnable contest, as are the rest of this program’s, so expect head coach Jamie Dixon to emphasize taking things one game at a time to finish the season strong.