Pittsburgh might be new to the Atlantic Coast Conference, but they made a statement on Friday afternoon, holding off North Carolina—a member of the old guard—for an 80-75 victory and a spot in Saturday afternoon's conference tournament semifinals.
The Panthers (25-8, 11-7 ACC) led by as many as 20 points in the second half, but had to hold on in the closing minutes, as the Tar Heels mounted a furious late-game rally.
With the win, Pitt advances to Saturday's semifinals, where they'll take on No. 6 Virginia.
The Cavaliers took the lone meeting with the Panthers this season, 48-45 in Pittsburgh on Feb. 2.
Pitt was led by senior forward Talb Zanna with 19 points and 21 rebounds. His presence on the glass, particularly at the offensive end, was decisive, and the Panthers were able to make the most of their many second-chance opportunities.
And they needed all of them, watching a huge lead dwindle to single digits in the closing minutes.
The Tar Heels (23-9, 12-6 ACC) just weren't able to climb out of the huge hole they dug themselves early in both the first and second halves.
North Carolina—who trailed 25-8 after an early 17-1 Pitt run—began the game ice cold from the field, missing 16 of their first 19 shots, before rallying to hit 8-of-9 to close out the first 20 minutes and pull within 10 at the break.
But they came out cold again to start the second half, and spotted the Panthers a 61-41 lead with just over seven minutes to play. They would outscore Pitt 34-19 to close out the game and even got within three points, but it wasn't enough to overcome such a large deficit.
The Tar Heels were led by Marcus Paige with 27 points, 20 of which came in the second half, and Brice Johnson who chipped in 16 on 8-of-9 shooting from the field.