Jamie Dixon

North Carolina coach Roy Williams, center, reacts with his team behind him after a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament against Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Washington. North Carolina won 88-71. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

No. 7 UNC opens ACC Tournament by topping Pitt 88-71

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WASHINGTON (AP) Seventh-ranked North Carolina got off to a fast start at the ACC Tournament as the regular-season champion routed Pittsburgh 88-71 Thursday to take the first step toward its first conference title since 2008.

Four players scored in double figures as the Tar Heels (26-6) shot 58.9 percent from the floor and pulled away from Pittsburgh (20-11) in front of a boisterous crowd in baby blue at Verizon Center.

Joel Berry II led North Carolina with 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting, and Brice Johnson added 19 on 8-of-11 shooting. The Tar Heels will face either No. 19 Duke or Notre Dame in the semifinals Friday.

Jamel Artis and Michael Young each scored 19 points for the Panthers, who still should be NCAA Tournament-bound despite the loss.

Artis started the game with a personal 8-0 run in the first 91 seconds. Looking spry despite playing 24 hours earlier, Pitt led by as many as eight early until the Tar Heels found their groove.

A turnover by James Robinson with 47 seconds left in the first half led to an emphatic dunk by Johnson that gave UNC the lead. While the Tar Heels went on a 12-0 run that carried over into the second half, Pitt had a 4:52 scoring drought.

The Panthers tied the score at 45 with 15:52 left on a 3-pointer by Sheldon Jeter. The tie lasted 15 seconds until Paige connected from long range, and UNC kept Pitt at arm’s length.

The Tar Heels went on an 11-0 run that put the game out of reach and showed just how dangerous they can be when hitting jumpers.

KENNY KILLS PITT

UNC freshman Kenny Williams’ 3-pointer during the big second-half run was the first basket of his college career after starting 0 for 12. It was the seldom-played guard’s first shot attempt since Valentine’s Day.

PITT’S NCAA CASE

Coach Jamie Dixon, who referenced the NIT if his team lost its ACC Tournament opener, said it was in “pretty good shape” after beating Syracuse. The Panthers – who entered ranked 53rd in the RPI with the 41st-toughest strength of schedule – are 8-8 against top-50 opponents.

NET GAINS

Arena workers replaced one of the nets at halftime because the bottom had become frayed. Not coincidentally, it was the end North Carolina scored on when it made five straight shots to end the first half.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Cameron Johnson and Robinson, the heroes of the second-round win against Syracuse, combined for to shoot 5 of 18 from the field. … With his fourth assist, Robinson became the fifth player in school history to reach 600 in his career.

North Carolina: Reached the ACC Tournament semifinals for the fifth time in the past six years. … The Tar Heels improved to 5-0 in neutral-site games this season.

UP NEXT

North Carolina: Faces the winner of No. 19 Duke vs. Notre Dame in semifinals Friday.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

No. 9 Virginia pulls away from Pitt 64-50

Lehigh Virginia Basketball
AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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PITTSBURGH (AP) Malcolm Brogdon scored 21 points and No. 9 Virginia pulled away from Pittsburgh in the second half of a 64-50 victory on Saturday.

London Perrantes added 14 for the Cavaliers (19-4, 8-3 ACC), who have won six straight and remain unbeaten (4-0) against the Panthers since Pitt moved to the ACC in 2013. Virginia took control after the Panthers tied it early in the second half, knocking down three straight 3-pointers during a game-turning 12-0 run.

Jamel Artis led Pitt (17-5, 6-4) with 17 points and Michael Young had 12 points and 10 rebounds but the Panthers again struggled to keep up with a quality opponent. All five of Pitt’s losses have come by at least 13 points.

Virginia outscored the Panthers 28-14 in the paint and converted 11 Pitt turnovers into 20 points the other way.

The Cavaliers have hit their stride following a bumpy stretch in early January that included consecutive losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. They’ve done it by getting back to what they do well -controlling the pace and hitting open shots.

It’s a formula that Pitt used for years to become a consistent contender in the Big East, one they’ve largely abandoned since joining the ACC. The Panthers have been steady if unspectacular this winter, with coach Jamie Dixon wondered how they’d won six of their first nine games in the league despite a notable lack of size in the middle and a toughness deficit. He addressed it by burying the whistle in practice and challenging his players to man up.

Needing a quality win to bolster an otherwise nondescript resume, Pitt couldn’t quite handle the Cavaliers.

Brogdon went off early, scoring 14 points in the first 20 minutes during a taut and entertaining back-and-forth with Young and Artis.

When Sheldon Jeter’s putback knotted the game at 31 a minute into the second half, the raucous black-clad Pitt student section came to life.

Just as abruptly, the Cavaliers took over. Brogdon hit a 3-pointer and Devon Hall followed with one of his own at the end of a possession that perfectly encapsulated what Virginia does so well. Perrantes had the ball on the wing in transition and could have taken a wide open 3-pointer. Instead, the ACC’s leading 3-point shooter pulled the ball down and the Cavaliers ran their offense to get Hall a wide-open 23-footer that he calmly drilled. Perrantes followed with a 3 of his own on Virginia’s next trip and when Hall hit an acrobatic lay-up while getting fouled, the ensuing free throw put Virginia up 43-31.

Pitt never got closer than nine the rest of the way as the Cavaliers cruised late in the game.

TIP-INS

Virginia: The Cavaliers shot 48 percent (24 of 50) from the floor and 9 of 16 from 3-point range. … Virginia has outscored opponents in 20 of its 23 games.

Pitt: The Panthers shot 39 percent (18 of 41) and made just 2 of 13 3-pointers. … Senior point guard James Robinson was held scoreless on 0 for 7 shooting.

UP NEXT:

Virginia: Hosts Virginia Tech on Tuesday

Pitt: Travels to No. 2 North Carolina on Tuesday.

Pitt adds junior college guard for 2015-16 roster

Big East Basketball Tournament - Syracuse v Pittsburgh
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Pitt announced a very late addition to its roster as the program signed junior college combo guard Jonathan Milligan. The 6-foot-2 Milligan averaged 14.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game at Kilgore College last season and helped the team to a 21-9 record.

He’ll give the Panthers another experienced guard to fight for a spot in the rotation this season.

“We are fortunate to be able to add a guard of Jonathan’s caliber at this point in the year,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said in the release. “He is a promising combo guard who received a lot of high major interest out of high school and while he was at Kilgore College. He has the ability to score from a variety of spots on the floor and break down defense by getting into the lane. He also has the quickness and instincts to be an outstanding defender in our program.”

While James Robinson returns to the Panthers for his senior season, he averaged nearly 34 minutes per game last season and the addition of Milligan can hopefully help give him some time on the bench to rest. Coppin State graduate transfer Sterling Smith also joined Pitt at shooting guard and combo guard Damon Wilson is a true freshman recruit. Cameron Johnson also returns for his redshirt freshman season after sitting out most of last season after left shoulder surgery.

The perimeter group for Pitt is inexperienced but Milligan’s addition does give them some more depth.

Pittsburgh announces departure of guard Josh Newkirk

Jamie Dixon, Josh Newkirk
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After undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee in early May, it was unknown whether or not guard Josh Newkirk would be able to contribute to the Pittsburgh basketball program in 2015-16 as he was expected to be sidelined anywhere from four to six months. Sunday afternoon it was announced by the school that Newkirk won’t be a Panther, as he’s decided to transfer to a school closer to home (he’s from Raleigh, North Carolina).

“Josh is looking to get closer to home while he recovers from knee surgery and we are in full support of his decision,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said in the release. “He has been an excellent student and strong representative of the University of Pittsburgh. We wish him the best of luck in his rehab and recovery.”

Newkirk wasn’t a starter for the Panthers last season, averaging 5.9 points and 2.7 assists in just under 21 minutes of action per contest. He’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2015-16 campaign, but given the knee surgery the time off could work in Newkirk’s favor. With Newkirk no longer in the fold, the question for Pittsburgh (which will return four starters) is who takes the reins when starting point guard James Robinson needs an occasional breather.

Robinson, who will be a senior, led the team with an average of 33.9 minutes per game in 2014-15 and without a clear backup he’ll play at least that much in 2015-16. Pitt added former Coppin State shooting guard Sterling Smith, who will be eligible immediately as a grad student, in late April and freshman combo guard Damon Wilson joins the program as well.

Sophomore Cameron Johnson joins Robinson as Pittsburgh’s only scholarship returnees on the perimeter.

Pittsburgh’s Michael Young looking to benefit from move back to natural position

Michael Young, Joel Berry II
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With five of their top six scorers from last season returning, Pittsburgh should not lack for scoring in 2015-16. One of those returnees is junior forward Michael Young, who averaged 13.4 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game last season with Jamel Artis (13.6 ppg) being the only Panther with a higher scoring average. However Young put forth those numbers playing out of position, as the Panthers’ lack of size led to him serving as the team’s starting center despite being 6-foot-9.

With that being the case adding size was a goal for head coach Jamie Dixon and his staff, and doing so this offseason should benefit Young. Joining the program are 7-foot junior college transfer Rozelle Nix and two graduate students in Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (from Richmond) and Rafael Maia (Brown), providing the Panthers with a noticeable (and necessary) boost in the front court.

And in a story written by John Harris of the Pittsburgh Tribune, Young noted that these additions can help the Panthers offensively as they get used to the new 30-second shot clock.

“With me going back [to the power forward spot], Jamel playing (small forward), we’ve got size at (shooting guard) — and (point guard) through (power forward) being able to handle the (ball). I don’t think the shot clock is really going to affect us,” Young said. “Me being able to get a rebound and push the ball upcourt and those guys running. Guys like Rozelle and Alonzo, they can easily get a rebound, take one dribble and make a nice outlet pass.”

Pittsburgh finished the 2014-15 season with a 19-15 overall record, going 8-10 in ACC play and missing out on the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012. In order to navigate what should be a deeper ACC the Panthers need to get better on the defensive glass, as they finished the season ranked tenth in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage.

The pieces Pitt will add to their front court have the potential to help in that regard, with Maia leading the Ivy League in rebounding (8.7 rpg) and Nix pulling down 9.5 caroms per game at Pensacola State CC last season. And if the newcomers meet early expectations, that will benefit Young and his teammates as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament.