Panthers punish No. 12 Tar Heels in 89-76 upset victory

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Panthers punish No. 12 Tar Heels in 89-76 upset victory

By Dan Sostek / Assistant Sports Editor

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Following a game in which the team’s offense went over 10 minutes without a field goal last Wednesday at Louisville, the Pitt men’s basketball team felt some pressure mounting to improve offensively.

“Our toughness and manhood got questioned after that Louisville game,” sophomore forward Sheldon Jeter said. “It forced us to look in the mirror and see just how tough we really were.”

Suffice it to say, they did that and more on Saturday afternoon.

The Panthers (17-9, 6-6 ACC) never trailed, shot 64.9% from the field and had six players reach double figures, cruising to an 89-76 victory over the No. 12 North Carolina Tar Heels (18-7, 8-4 ACC) at the Petersen Events Center.

“We showed just how much of men we are,” Jeter said.

It only took six seconds for Pitt to grab the lead in the contest, as Cameron Wright grabbed the opening tip and sprinted down the court for a lay-up to jump start Pitt and a raucous Oakland Zoo student section.

The lay-up marked the beginning of a 10-0 run by the Panthers in the first three minutes action, as Pitt attacked UNC inside early– four of the team’s first five baskets were layups.

The Tar Heels would roar back, posting an 18-8 run of their own to tie the game with 9:42 remaining in the half, tying the game at 18-18 via a jump shot by junior Brice Johnson.

That would be the closest UNC would get to capturing the lead.

Following the jumper by Johnson, sophomore forward Jamel Artis connected with the Panthers’ first 3-pointer of the afternoon.

As it turned out, that long-range make seemed to open up a floodgates of threes for Pitt.

The Panthers connected on six of their 10 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, featuring two each by junior point guard James Robinson and sophomore forward Sheldon Jeter and one each for Artis and sophomore guard Chris Jones.

Those threes– along with a dunk as time expired by sophomore center Michael Young– helped cushion Pitt’s lead over the 12th-ranked Tar Heels, entering intermission leading 48-34.

The Panthers shot a scalding 61.3% from the field in the period. Somehow, they managed to improve on that figure in the final 20 minutes of action.

Pitt was able to come out just as hot in the second half, making all of their first seven shot attempts in the half.

North Carolina never really threatened the Panthers in the second half, as Pitt’s lead grew to as much as 24.

It was only due to a late 11-1 run by the Tar Heels after the outcome of the game had seemingly already been decided that the Panthers’ margin of victory was only 13.

Jeter, the transfer from Vanderbilt who was making his second career start for Pitt on the afternoon, shined in the final period, going 7-9 from the field, hitting a handful of mid-range jumpers in the process. He led the team with 22 points, chipping in with four boards as well.

“[The rim] looked like an ocean for Sheldon Jeter,” senior guard Cameron Wright said. “It had to.”

Wright was outstanding as well, facilitating ball movement and notching his first career double-double with 15 points and 10 assists.

“I thought Cameron Wright was sensational for them,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I had no idea he was going to end up with a 10-0 assist-to-turnover ratio.”

Pitt as a whole thrived with ball movement, recording 30 assists– the second-highest mark ever allowed by a UNC team– while only turning the ball over five times.

“[Ball movement] was a really big emphasis going in,” said James Robinson. “We knew they were going to play really aggressive defense. We just tried to attack the open gaps in the defense, and guys hit open shots.”

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon cited the Panthers’ success passing as a key component of the win.

“Well we shot it well and that makes a lot of things work a lot better,” Dixon said. “But the passing was where it started. The 30 assists, the five turnovers. Really a good performance against a really good team, who also played really well.”

Robinson was key for Pitt as well, not only tallying 12 points, eight assists and four rebounds but also shutting down Tar Heel star Marcus Paige, holding the offensive dynamo to eight points on 3-11 shooting, and limiting him to an abysmal 1-7 mark from beyond the arc.

“I’m sure they had a focus on Marcus because he played very well against them last year” Williams said. “I think they made him an emphasis.”

Dixon and his Panthers won’t have much time to bask in this upset victory, though, as the team has just two days to prepare for their Monday matchup against No. 2 Virginia in Charlottesville.

“We already have [shifted the focus],” Dixon said regarding the upcoming matchup. “We’re moving on to Virginia. We’ve had a lot of big wins so this shouldn’t linger with us for too long.”

Tip-off against the Cavaliers is scheduled for 7 pm, and the game will be aired on ESPN.

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