PITTSBURGH – No. 8 North Carolina locked up a double-bye in the ACC Tournament and reduced its magic number for an outright ACC regular season title to one game with an 85-67 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Sloppy in spots and textbook in others, the Tar Heels excelled in their strengths, dominating the glass (48-28) and outscoring the Panthers, 28-9, in second-chance points. UNC held a 24-9 edge in offensive rebounds. The 24 offensive rebounds are a season high and the 28 second-chance points ties a season high (Hawaii).
“I always expect to win the rebounding battle because we emphasize it so much,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “We have a couple of guys that can shoot 3-point shots but Isaiah [Hicks] and Kennedy [Meeks] don’t go out and shoot 3-point shots. Their niche is rebounding the ball and scoring inside. That’s a pretty good margin, but we’ve had a pretty good margin most of the year.”
UNC shot 45.2 percent (41.7% 3FG) to Pitt’s 39.6 percent (29.2% 3FG), and its work on the offensive glass resulted in a significant differential in points per possession (1.29-to-1.03). The Tar Heels attempted 25 more field goals than Pitt, which is the highest margin of the season.
UNC can clinch back-to-back outright regular season titles with one win in its final two games. Its the 31st time, and eighth time under Williams, that the Tar Heels have won or shared the ACC regular season title. UNC clinched the ACC Tournament's No. 1 seed with Duke's loss to Miami on Saturday afternoon.
Jackson Stays Hot from Deep
Justin Jackson continued his 3-point barrage at the Petersen Events Center, knocking down five 3-pointers, which marks his third consecutive game with four or more treys.
“Five-for-11 from three, that’s pretty daggum good,” Williams said. “You’ll take that most times.”
He is shooting 42.4 percent from 3-point range (13-of-28) in his last three games and 42.9 percent over his last 14 ACC games (48-of-113). Jackson is averaging 3.4 made 3-pointers since UNC’s win over N.C. State on Jan. 8, and is now averaging 2.77 made 3-pointers on the season, which is currently the highest mark in UNC single-season history (Shammond Williams, 2.71 in 1996-97).
"He hits shots when we really need them and he hit two big ones today for us," Meeks said. "Two big threes for us that kind of got us going a little bit... Justin is definitely the go-to player as far as when we need buckets."
The junior wing led all scorers with 23 points on 9-of-20 shooting (5-of-11 3FG). His consistency throughout ACC play has elevated him to frontrunner status for the ACC Player of the Year award.
Pitt’s hot hand against the Tar Heels appeared to carry from the first meeting in January through the first eight minutes of Saturday’s matchup. The Panthers had built a 17-11 lead by shooting 54.5 percent (4-of-6 3FG) and averaging 1.7 points per possession.
UNC countered with an offensive strike, averaging 1.86 points over its next seven possessions, and settled in defensively to outscore Pitt, 29-11, over the final 12:44 before halftime. The Tar Heels held the Panthers to 2-of-11 shooting and five turnovers during that closing stretch, good for 0.61 points per possession.
The Tar Heels improved to 7-4 on the road this season, including a 5-3 mark in the ACC. UNC has posted a winning road record in ACC play in 11 of 14 seasons under Williams.
Stat of Note
UNC assisted on its first 12 field goals and 13 of its 14 field goals in the first half. The Tar Heels finished with 23 assists on 33 made field goals.
A quick turnaround for the Tar Heels as they return home from Pittsburgh late Saturday only to turn around and get back on the road again on Sunday for Monday’s matchup with Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers (20-9, 9-7 ACC) have lost four of their last five and six of their last nine.