Torrent of 3-pointers helps guide Pitt over No. 12 North Carolina


It was a surprise in and of itself that the Pitt men’s basketball team put forth its best offensive performance of the season against then-No. 12 University of North Carolina over the weekend. One particular key to the success in the 89-76 upset made the feat even more impressive. 

Coming into Saturday’s contest, the Panthers (17-9, 6-6 ACC) ranked as one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in Division I: 315th out of 345 D-I schools in 3-pointers made per game (4.6) and 223rd in 3-point percentage (33.2).

How, then, did they convert 6 of 10 attempts from outside the arc before halftime — their best marks in a single period all season — and then make 2 of 5 after the break to tie their single-game high? Note that this was against an opponent that had the seventh-best 3-point field goal percentage defense in the country, holding teams on average to 28 percent.

“With the shooters we got, it’s all about confidence, and that’s what it came down to today,” Sheldon Jeter said.

According to the sophomore forward, who made 2 of 4 threes as part of his game-high 22 points, the team lacked that trait earlier in the season, often passing up open looks. 

That didn’t happen much against the Tar Heels (18-7, 8-4 ACC), with Pitt shooting the best it has from 3-point territory in terms of both quality (53.3 percent) and quantity (8 of 15) since its Maui Invitational victory over Kansas State in November.

Most of Pitt’s made threes came from uncontested opportunities, something UNC guard Marcus Paige lamented post game. 

“They had the offense rolling on all cylinders, and we didn’t do anything to take them out of that rhythm,” Paige said. 

Junior point guard James Robinson — who shot a perfect 2 of 2 from 3-point territory — said many of his teammates, regardless of their position, have the sort of passing ability to create those uncontested chances for others: an invaluable skill.

“It makes it easier when you’re just taking open shots and just [focusing on] knocking them down,” Robinson said.

The stats support his claim. Pitt recorded 30 assists — the most ever against a team coached by UNC head coach Roy Williams, a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee — and made 64.9 percent of all its shots, both season-highs.

Finding success from far out was especially key initially, because it came at a crucial moment. The Tar Heels had tied the score for the second time in the first half, having come back from a 10-0 hole, and might’ve gone on to take their first lead if not for back-to-back Pitt threes.

But, instead, they never led.

The first make came courtesy of sophomore forward Jamel Artis, who converted a wide-open look from the right side to break the 18-18 tie midway through the period. He’d finish 2 of 3 from that range. Jeter followed from straight on — just his third made and 10th attempted 3-pointer of the season — which increased the lead to six. He’d make his second a couple minutes later, facing minimal defense, to push the lead back to seven.

With UNC players again failing to pressure the shooter until the last second, Robinson sank his first triple, which widened the gap back to double figures.

He and sophomore guard Chris Jones added two more between them to help the hosts enter halftime with a 14-point advantage, 48-34.

“We just couldn’t stop them to save our lives,” Paige said, speaking about Pitt’s overall offensive performance.

There’s no way yet to tell whether this showing was just an aberration or if the Panthers have actually improved their shooting from range in time for this crucial, final stretch of the regular season.

Monday night’s 7 p.m. game at No. 2 University of Virginia, with it’s 19th-ranked 3-point defense (29.6 percent), will be a good evaluator.