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