Heels Snowed Under

PITTSBURGH -- All around Roy Williams was hail, raining down from atop the Petersen Events Center and piling in Pittsburgh's basket. He was powerless to stop it.

His team was not. It could have guarded better, Williams said. It could have done more to prod and nudge and disrupt Pittsburgh, which by Saturday afternoon's end had bludgeoned No. 12 North Carolina, 89-76. And yet the hail kept coming.

It was midway through the second half when Williams pressed his right knee to the navy sideline by UNC's bench. He cupped his left cheek with his hand and peered toward the other end of the court. Pittsburgh, again, was finding the basket with relative ease. Forward Sheldon Jeter, who scored a game-high 22 points on 10-for-14 shooting, finished another layup. It was a modest contribution to a prolific, and historic, day: Pittsburgh made 64.9 percent of its shots, the highest percentage that any Williams-led UNC team has ever yielded. Outside The Zoo, it was a snowstorm. Inside, it was a deluge.

"We helped them because we didn't guard them very effectively," said Williams, whose team (18-7, 8-4 ACC) has lost three of its last four games. "Their shots were open looks."

“That’s really what this is about," said Paige, whom Pittsburgh held to eight points in 32 minutes. "You have to credit them for making some tough shots, but they also made a lot of shots where we gave them open looks. They had their offense rolling on all cylinders, and we didn’t do anything to take them out of their rhythm.”

It was, to Paige, a matter of what his adversaries could — and could not — feel.

What Pittsburgh (17-9, 6-6 ACC) could sense Saturday afternoon was its smoldering shooting touch, which it used to torch UNC. The Panthers made their first four shots of the first half, their first seven shots of the second half. They hit six 3-pointers on 10 attempts in the first half, 18 of 26 field-goal tries in the second.What they couldn't sense, though, was UNC's defense. It was close, Paige said, and yet too far away.

“We really didn’t pressure them or challenge them defensively to make them feel us," Paige said. "We always talk about, ‘Make your guy feel you on defense.’ And we didn’t have any of that today.”

It wasn't until early in the second half, Williams said, that UNC bothered to challenge a shooter with as much verve — and nerve — as he'd appreciate. Justin Jackson put a hand in the face of Jeter as he released a jumper in front of Pittsburgh's bench. He sank the shot, and the Tar Heels' anemic hope for a comeback, too. They were down 18 with 15:03 to play.

It was a startling barrage for UNC, holders of the nation's 16th-stingiest defensive effective field-goal percentage, according to KenPom.com. It is enough pause, perhaps, to seep into the Tar Heels — looking adrift as the ACC's schedule becomes more fearsome — before their Wednesday night date with the Blue Devils.

Or, perhaps just as likely, it was only a matter of Pittsburgh's supernatural performance, resembling precipitation sent from the heavens.

"It got to the point where they were taking shots where you could tell they kind of felt like they were unguarded, and then they got their confidence up," guard Nate Britt said. "They just kind of felt like every shot they took was going in.”

Not every shot, but almost. It was enough to let Williams place his face in his hands, drop to bended knee and — for a change — hail the Panthers.

Inside Carolina Top Stories