Pitt outmuscled by UNC, drops second straight game, 75-65


Carolyn Pallof | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore forward Justin Champagnie scored 23 of Pitt’s 65 points against UNC Tuesday night. Pitt lost 75-65.

By Stephen Thompson, Assistant Sports Editor

The last time Pitt men’s basketball took the floor of the Petersen Events Center, it beat Duke in a signature 79-73 win, its first over the Blue Devils since February 2016. The Panthers were tied for third in the crowded ACC standings and looking to push toward new heights within the conference.

But on Tuesday night, just one week removed from the Duke win, the mood had completely flipped. Pitt (8-4 overall, 4-3 ACC) was maddeningly sloppy against North Carolina (11-5 overall, 6-3 ACC) and lost 75-65 in deflating fashion at the Pete.

Sophomore forward Justin Champagnie nailed two 3-pointers to open the game for Pitt. But his hot start quickly turned cold as the Tar Heels unleashed wave after wave of dominating big men.

First-year center Day’ron Sharpe, senior forward Garrison Brooks and sophomore forward Armando Bacot — who all stand taller than 6-foot-10 and weigh more than 240 pounds — owned the paint for UNC. They combined to tally 25 points and 13 rebounds in the first half and left the Panthers with no answers.

Undersized and undermanned after first-year forward John Hugley was suspended indefinitely, Pitt was simply unable to match UNC’s size and physicality in the paint. Capel was disappointed that his team did not rebound with the same vigor that it had all year.

“Well, most of the teams we play against are bigger than us and we’ve done a pretty good job all year,” Capel said. “We have to block out. We have to be physical. We were not physical today … We thought if we were able to rebound like we had been earlier in the year or prior to the past three games, we would be able to get out and transition against them, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that.”

The Panthers hung tough with the Tar Heels, but their struggles with fundamentals tied down any attempt to close the deficit. Pitt was outscored 22-10 in the paint, 10-5 on second chance points and made only five of 13 layup attempts in the first half.

Champagnie noticed those little mistakes, and said postgame that during a game, you can see them compound into a loss.

“We can compete with every team in the ACC,” Champagnie said. “It’s just a matter of, we have to fix the little mistakes. It’s like the little things that build up, is what leads to us losing games. I feel like if we personally got an offensive rebound like the long ones that went to the guard, or even, even the loose balls, we could have won the game.”

At halftime, UNC led by seven. After the break, it only built further upon its lead. Bacot once again dominated inside, drawing fouls and backing down the smaller Panther frontcourt. And as the Pitt defense collapsed on Bacot, opportunities opened up for his teammates on the perimeter.

But the Panthers refused to go away quietly. Trailing by 16 with just more than seven minutes remaining in the game, Champagnie canned a 3-pointer. Then first-year guard Femi Odukale slammed home a two-handed dunk.

Pitt scored eight straight points, cutting UNC’s lead to five with just under four minutes remaining in the game. But the troubles that had plagued Pitt in the first half reared their ugly heads again.

The Panthers were unable to convert turnovers into points or make shots from anywhere on the floor. UNC was able to control the boards and make enough free throws over the closing minutes to finally shut the door.

Champagnie continued his immaculate season despite the loss. The reigning ACC Player of the Week scored 23 points and 10 rebounds despite only taking nine shots. Junior guard Ithiel Horton also turned in a strong game with 12 points and 2 assists in 34 minutes.

The frontcourt trio of Brooks, Sharpe and Bacot combined for 43 points and 23 rebounds on 16-29 shooting from the floor for UNC.

Pitt has lost two games in a row for the first time this season and is on the edge of falling back into the basement of the ACC. The Panthers will get four days of rest before welcoming Notre Dame to the Pete for an 8 p.m. tipoff on Saturday.