CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 12 North Carolina relied on its offensive rebounding yet again to counter Pitt’s hot hand in Tuesday’s 80-78 victory.
The Tar Heels and Panthers traded baskets at an incredibly efficient clip through the first 30 minutes before a cold stretch struck the home team late in the game. UNC missed 10 of 11 field goal attempts as Pitt cut its nine-point deficit to one with two minutes to play.
The Tar Heels, however, had built a comfortable working margin by dominating the offensive glass (15-6) with a 20-6 edge in second-chance points. UNC has won all 13 games this season in which it has scored 20 or more second-chance points.
ACC leading scorer Jamel Artis missed a fadeaway 3-pointer as time expired to secure UNC’s 20th victory of the season.
Pitt shot 55.6 percent from the floor, which is a season-high by a UNC opponent.
Roy Williams has been critical of team’s defensive play in recent weeks despite the statistics suggesting otherwise. Those stats, however, have shifted of late to prove the 14th-year UNC head coach’s point. Opponents have shot 50 percent or better in five of the last seven halves against the Tar Heels, and that doesn’t include Miami’s 48.0 percent effort in the first half of Saturday’s loss in Coral Gables.
“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 told reporters in his postgame press conference.
Pittsburgh - which entered the game ranked 229th nationally in effective field goal percentage (51.6), and second-worst in the ACC in overall field goal percentage - shot 55.2 percent in the first half, converting 11 of its last 17 field goal attempts, and was even better after halftime, shooting 56.0 percent.
“I don’t know that we had that many open shots,” Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said. “I know we made some contested ones.”
The Panthers averaged 1.32 points per possession. UNC’s goal is to hold opponents below 0.75 ppp.
Defending the ball screen, as well as stretch forwards like Pitt's Michael Young, have proven problematic for the Tar Heels.
“I just think it’s taking pride in wanting to guard somebody,” junior guard Joel Berry said. “If someone is scoring on you every possession when you come down, you’ve got to at least man up and say, ‘look, I’m not going to let him score on me anymore.’ Once we get that mentality, I think that will help us a lot.”
UNC once again took what its opponent’s zone was giving: a bevy of 3-point attempts. The Tar Heels shot 37.5 percent from deep on 9-of-24 shooting. Tuesday marked the fourth time in five games UNC has attempted 20 or more 3-pointers.
Joel Berry was 5-of-9 from deep, marking the third time in eight games he’s made at least five 3-pointers. Justin Jackson, who led UNC with 20 points, made 3-of-9 3-pointers, his seventh time in eight games making at least three 3-pointers.
UNC has made 86 3-pointers through 10 league games this season. For reference, the 2015-16 Tar Heels made 88 3-pointers in 18 regular season conference games.
Midway through the first half, ACC leading scorer Jamel Artis attempted to drive past Kennedy Meeks on the left wing. Kenny Williams was in position to slide over and draw the charge. On Pitt’s next possession, Chris Jones drove into the lane and met the same fate as his teammate by plowing over Williams for a charge.
Two drawn charges by the same player in 28 seconds is a rarity. Williams has drawn six charges in his last three games and leads the team with 16 drawn charges this season, according to The Secondary Break.
Junior wing Theo Pinson missed his second game after rolling his ankle against Virginia Tech on Thursday. He will also sit out Saturday's game against No. 20 Notre Dame.
“I don’t want to put a timetable on it," Williams said. "He’s got a rolled ankle. You saw him walk in, he’s out of a boot. They’re going to start working him some tomorrow. He’s not going to play on Saturday because I think that’s too quick a turnaround. Joel Berry’s ankle was not nearly as severe a turn and he missed two games, so we’re not going to have him for a while but we’d like to get him back.”
UNC remains home for a matchup with No. 20 Notre Dame on Saturday (6pm/ESPN). The Fighting Irish have lost four of their last five games after winning 16 of their first 18.