CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina shook off the disappointment of weather derailing the first meeting with its biggest rival to add another win to a growing streak. This time, it came against a ranked opponent.
James Michael McAdoo had 24 points and 12 rebounds Saturday to help the Tar Heels beat No. 25 Pittsburgh, 75-71, for their sixth straight victory.
Marcus Paige added 18 points for the Tar Heels (17-7, 7-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) three days after their game against Duke was postponed because of a storm that brought enough ice and snow to paralyze area roads.
Now they’re starting a four-games-in-eight days stretch, with the next stop coming Monday at Florida State followed by Thursday’s rescheduled game against the Blue Devils.
“It was a little heartbreaking we couldn’t play Duke,” said sophomore Brice Johnson, who hit Saturday’s clinching free throw with 2.8 seconds left. “I was ready – all of us were really ready to play them. Just knowing there was going to be a lot of students in here, we were extremely ready for that.
“We just got back to it. We had to let it go … and we had to get ready for our next opponent, which was Pitt.”
While the Tar Heels have dug out from an 0-3 ACC start, their past five wins had come against teams that were a combined 26-32 in the league and none better than sixth in the standings entering the weekend.
UNC had lost its only two ACC games against currently ranked teams – No. 1 Syracuse and No. 17 Virginia – by double-digit margins before beating Pitt (20-6, 8-5).
“We know the type of team we’re playing against, and we know we’ve played some teams that were struggling a little bit, but this team is really good,” Paige said. “They played Syracuse tough a couple of times, and they were ranked in the Top 25, so we knew this would be a big win for us and give us more confidence that what we’re doing is an improvement over what we were doing at the beginning of the year.”
The Tar Heels shot 48 percent after halftime and led throughout the second half, including by 12 with about 9 minutes left, before fighting off a late push that saw the Panthers get within three with the ball in the final 10 seconds.
But Lamar Patterson missed a 3-pointer and Talib Zanna then missed a putback attempt before Patterson fouled on the rebound with 2.8 seconds left, setting up Johnson’s free throw that made it a two-possession game.
McAdoo made 11 of 18 shots, while Paige made 5 of 6 3-pointers. Johnson added 13 points off the bench with seven rebounds and five blocked shots, including one on a driving layup by James Robinson with the Tar Heels up 74-68 in the final minute.
Patterson scored 16 points to lead the Panthers, who were even with the Tar Heels in several statistical categories – from rebounds and made free throws to second-chance points and points off turnovers – but never could quite level the game after halftime.
For Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, it came down to the 40-all rebounding totals and the Panthers committing 14 turnovers to UNC’s 13.
“I thought we did some good things, but at the end of the day we came into here to outrebound them and we didn’t, and we had more turnovers than they did,” Dixon said. “And those were the two things we said we had to do. … We’ve got to go out and execute better.”
For the Panthers, it was the latest frustrating moment in a stretch of gut-wrenching games.
It started with a home loss on a last-second 3-pointer to Virginia, followed by an overtime win at Miami and a double-overtime home win against Virginia Tech. Then came Wednesday’s loss to the unbeaten Orange at home on Tyler Ennis’ desperation 3-pointer at the horn.
Along with the UNC loss, the past five games have been decided by five or fewer points.
“It just comes down to getting it done the whole game instead of letting a shot dictate, or the ref dictate the outcome,” Patterson said. “We’ve got to get it done the whole game so it doesn’t come down to those situations.”