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The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Pitt men’s basketball falls to North Carolina in ACC semi-final

Pitt+men%E2%80%99s+basketball+falls+to+North+Carolina+in+ACC+semi-final
Kelechi Anucha | Staff Photographer

Pitt men’s basketball’s game against North Carolina was labeled by Bracketologists as a must-win to make the tournament. But the Panthers were unable to make due, losing to the Tar Heels 72-65.

North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis doesn’t agree with these Bracketologists’ beliefs that the Panthers should not play in March Madness.

“There’s no way that you can look at this game and look at Pitt and not say it’s definitely an NCAA Tournament team,” Davis said. “And not just an NCAA Tournament team, a team that could go far in the tournament.”

First-year guards Carlton “Bub” Carrington and Jaland Lowe led the Panthers in the scoring with 24 and 17 points, respectively. Senior guard RJ Davis and graduate student center Armando Bacot led the Tar Heels in scoring with 25 and 19, respectively.

Off the tipoff, things looked blissful for the Panthers in the first 3:22 of the game. But junior center Federiko Federiko got two early fouls, and Pitt was down 8-4. 

The Panthers had to sub in sophomore center Guillermo Diaz Graham, who would need to match up with a much larger center in Bacot. 

But this substitution worked in Pitt’s favor more than it initially seemed. Diaz Graham made every play for the Panthers in the next 2:21. The sophomore made two consecutive three-pointers, grabbed two rebounds and spearheaded a 11-0 run for the Panthers.

Diaz Graham’s ability to make shots from beyond the arc forced North Carolina to switch their defense, making it harder for Diaz Graham to find open shots but easier for Pitt guards to score. 

“The fact that I can shoot the ball, it’s hard for them to play defense,” Diaz Graham said. “But [Carrington’s] a bucket, he really don’t need me to score.” 

Carrington took advantage of North Carolina’s defensive adjustment, scoring the next seven points for the Panthers via a layup, three-pointer and two free throws after getting fouled at the rim.

But when everything was working in the Panthers’ favor, the Tar Heels started to come back, making four consecutive field goal attempts. The Tar Heels only trailed by four after junior forward Harison Ingram made a free throw. 

While North Carolina settled in, Diaz Graham earned his second foul of the half, forcing Pitt  head coach Jeff Capel to put Federiko back in at center.

But Federiko came in with 6:43 left in the first half and committed his third foul, so head coach Jeff Capel had to play 6-foot 7-inch redshirt junior Will Jeffress at center until the under-four media timeout. 

The Panthers struggled with Jeffress at center because of their lack of size. The Tar Heels went on a 8-2 run and the momentum shifted in North Carolina’s favor.

Pitt and North Carolina were tied at 26, and Diaz Graham was back in the game. The Panthers’ first-year guards made the most of Diaz Graham’s presence on the floor. Carrington — who finished the first half with 16 points — made a three-pointer, and Lowe made two layups. 

 

But North Carolina’s frontcourt took advantage of the Panthers’ foul troubles, with Ingram making a three-pointer and Bacot making a layup. The Panthers led the Tar Heels 35-33 at the half after both teams unleashed a flurry of scoring. 

North Carolina started the second half on a 7-4 run and took their first lead since they led 28-26. The Panthers missed five of their first six shots, and the Tar Heels went three of eight.

Lowe came out of the timeout and helped slow down the poor shooting with a triple immediately out of the timeout. But Lowe’s three was the only good thing that happened for the Panthers in the next 1:59. The Tar Heels went on a 6-0 run and forced three turnovers from the Panthers. 

Carrington understands the Panthers can’t make these errors in a close battle against a top-four team.

“You can’t make mistakes against a really good team,” Carrington said. “Because they’re going to make you pay for it. We did that.” 

But Carrington and Lowe were not going to let Pitt go down easily with these mistakes. They scored all five points for the Panthers after Capel was forced to call a timeout. But graduate student forward Jae’Lyn Withers responded for North Carolina, scoring four and allowing the Tar Heels to enjoy a 52-47 lead with 10:50 left in regulation.

Senior forward Blake Hinson scored his first points of the night 29:28 into the game. Junior guard Ishmael Leggett scored his first points 32:15 into the game. The first-years were clutch throughout the game, but the Panthers needed their upperclassmen to make crucial plays in the last 7:45.

Hinson and Leggett made due in the next 4:04. Hinson converted an and-one in transition, Leggett made a triple and Lowe made a floater to tie the game at 62 apiece. 

Once the Panthers tied it up, Davis made a three-pointer to give the Tar Heels a 65-62 advantage with 3:41 left in regulation. 

And with 2:24 on the clock, Davis put a dagger in Panthers’ fans’ hearts. The senior guard hit a three-pointer and made it a seven point game with 2:24 left. 

Capel could do nothing but tip his hat to the ACC Player of the Year.

“The Player of the Year, [Davis] stepped up and made plays,” Capel said. “You have to tip your hat to him. He made a deep three, a 28-footer, some pull-ups. He just made plays.”

The Panthers were unable to respond as they went 1-9 from the field in the last 3:26.

The Panthers will have to wait till Sunday evening to see what their postseason fate is. 

Whether the Panthers make the NCAA Tournament or not, one thing is certain — Capel believes the Panthers are capable of competing in March Madness.

“I know we’ve gotten better,” Capel said. “I know if you look over the past —  since January 20th, I think we’ve played as well as anyone in college basketball.”

 

About the Contributor
Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer