Tar Heels utilize second half spurts to pummel Pitt


John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

The Pitt men’s basketball team will return from Washington D.C. feeling optimistic and disappointed.

The Panthers fell to the No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels by a final score of 88-71 in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament at the Verizon Center Thursday.

The loss came one day after defeating Syracuse 71-70 in their first tournament action.

The game began with a Panther run entirely fueled by Jamel Artis, who scored the first eight points of the contest.

Marcus Paige brought the Tar Heels closer, as a contested three shrank Pitt’s advantage to 10-7.

The Tar Heels would continue to run, and a three-point play by Nate Britt gave North Carolina their first advantage of the game, as they led 16-14.

Artis tied the game back up at 20 with 9:18 left, sinking two free throws, but Joel James would answer to give the Tar Heels the lead back.

But Michael Young would score four straight points, including a breakaway dunk, and Pitt once again held the lead. An Artis layup would extend the advantage to four.

After trading baskets, Pitt took a six point lead on a jump shot by Michael Young.

A Ryan Luther three answered another Tar Heel score, extending the lead to seven, but Joel Barry responded with a three of his own, decreasing the North Carolina deficit at four.

Kennedy Meeks tied the game up at 35 with 50 seconds left, and following a travel by James Robinson, a Brice Johnson dunk and Joel Berry steal and layup gave North Carolina a four point lead heading into intermission.

“Obviously it wasn’t a good stretch,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said of the run. “[It was] disappointing in how we handled that. Uncharacteristic turnovers.”

The Tar Heels continued to breakaway in the second half, as Johnson nailed another dunk to extend the lead to six, continuing the trend of North Carolina big men giving Pitt nightmares.

“We were giving up a lot of easy layups,” Jeter said. “We had the ability to stop them, but obviously we didn’t.”

Cameron Johnson would end Pitt’s scoreless streak, nailing a jumper. A Young jump shot would cut the North Carolina lead to two.

The Panthers and Tar Heels would trade some baskets, with Pitt eventually tying the game up on a three by Sheldon Jeter. But North Carolina once again answered, scoring five straight on a 3-pointer by Marcus Paige and a floater by Theo Pinson.

Later, with Pitt trailing by four, Barry hit a three extending the UNC lead to 7, and after Johnson made one of two from the line, Kenny Williams connected from long-range, extending the Tar Heels advantage to a game-high 11.

That lead would grow to as large as 19, with the Panthers never managing to cut it to single-digits.

Jeter said the team needed to be more consistent to win the game.

“We have to keep the intensity all 40 minutes,” Jeter said. “We have to stick to the gameplan. If something’s working we can’t deviate from it, we have to stick with it.”

Young and Artis led Pitt with 19 points each.

Berry paced the Tar Heels with 20 points, while Johnson finished with a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

They had four players reach double-figures, and ten players score at least two points.

Young noted that the Tar Heels’ depth, specifically in the frontcourt, was too much to handle for Pitt.

“They had a lot of guys that they were throwing a us,” Young said. “They were just rotating guys… When you’re good like those guys are, they’re going to make plays.”

Dixon expressed his frustration that his team couldn’t keep their level of play up to a sufficient standard.

“I thought we were a better team than this,” Dixon said. “We did show it for periods of time, but not for 40 minutes.”

Pitt will find out its tournament fate on Sunday.