ACC MBB: Tar Heels hold on against Panthers for 80-78 win

David Kehrli, Triangle Sports Network
Let 'em know

David Kehrli

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Just a normal day in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

The No. 12 North Carolina Tar Heels got all they wanted and more from the last-in-conference Pittsburgh Panthers in an 80-78 victory at the Dean Dome Tuesday night.

The ACC-leading Tar Heels (20-4, 8-2) struggled defensively, allowing the Panthers (12-10, 1-8) to shoot 56 percent from the field and 45 percent from three, but ultimately prevailed when a three to win it from Pitt guard Jamel Artis missed its mark.

“It’s the ACC, and I know that they are at the bottom, but they are a good team,” Carolina guard Joel Berry said.

“They have the top two scorers in the ACC. They shot 55 percent for the whole game. The last couple of games we have given guys a lot of opportunities, a lot of shots and they have been knocking them down. We’ve just got to be better defensively.”

The Panthers held their own against Carolina in the first half with a great effort on the boards against the nation’s top rebounding team.

The Heels entered the game averaging 45.3 boards a game compared to Pittsburgh’s 36.6, but only pulled down 16, to Pitt’s 12, in the opening half.

While part of the lower rebounding numbers were because both teams shot above 50 percent, the Panthers were physical inside and matched the Carolina’s usual intensity on the boards.

In the second half, Pitt was able to keep the game from getting away from it with red-hot three-point shooting.

The Panthers made 13 threes, the most UNC has given up this season, and always seemed to hit from range just as the Heels started to pull away.

“Tonight, they hit some tough shots honestly,” Carolina forward Justin Jackson admitted.

“We gave them a lot of easy ones too, but they hit some tough shots to go towards that great percentage that they shot. We’ve got to stay in front of the ball better. We’ve got to communicate.”

Carolina struggled to contain Pitt guards Cameron Johnson and Artis, who are two of only four players in the conference averaging over 20 points a game.

Johnson scored 24 points and had a field day behind the arc, going 6-for-9, while Artis added 17 points and five assists.

Pitt forward Michael Young picked up his fifth double-double of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

“No. 23 [Young] had a number of threes that were just wide-open practice shots,” Berry said.

“I expected him to knock them down. Some shots were contested, but I think we’ve got to continue to do a better job of making a guy uncomfortable.”

Carolina’s offense didn’t have much of a problem, as it shot 50 percent from the field.

Berry led the way for the Heels with 19 points and three assists, bouncing back from his two-point, 0-for-8 performance in the loss to Miami on Saturday.

“When I came back after Miami, I shot 500 shots and then I came in the next day and shot 600,” Berry said.

“If you put in the time, you’ll get the results. It helped me get back on track. When I saw the first one go in, I knew I was going to have a good night.”

Jackson extended his hot streak of being the Heels’ leading scorer to four games with 20 points, six rebounds and three assists.

Up front, Isaiah Hicks scored 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting and eight rebounds, and Kennedy Meeks added 10 points and five boards.

With the offense rolling as usual, defense continues to be North Carolina’s biggest issue and something head coach Roy Williams is still searching for answers to.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, but some way somehow I have to figure out a way to do a better job coaching on the defensive end of the floor,” Williams said.

“I’ve always taken great pride that we can do some things there.”