After looking sluggish in a loss at Miami on Saturday, No. 12 North Carolina bounced back with a 80-78 win over Pitt at home in the ACC on Tuesday night.
The Tar Heels (20-4, 8-2) maintained a consistent lead on the Panthers for most of the game but could never seem to put them away, as Pitt cut the lead to one twice with under two minutes left. But the Tar Heels were finally able to put things away
Junior Justin Jackson finished with a game-high 20 points as 13 of those points came during a very efficient first half. After some recent mediocre performances, point guard Joel Berry bounced back with 19 points on 5-for-9 three-point shooting as he looked much more comfortable against Pitt.
Things were also easy for Isaiah Hicks on the interior as he was 6-for-8 from the field for 18 points and eight rebounds while Kennedy Meeks had 10 points and five boards.
North Carolina shot 50 percent from the field (29-for-58) and made a respectable 37 percent of their three-pointers on Tuesday.
Perimeter defense is going to have to improve for the Tar Heels, but they ultimately got big offensive plays from experienced veterans to improve to 12-0 at home this season.
The Panthers (12-10, 1-8) had a great comeback effort and some critical late shots but they just couldn’t get over the hump and gain the lead in this one. Guard Cameron Johnson was impressive as his six three-pointers helped him to a game-high 24 points as he provided a much-needed scoring boost for Michael Young (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Jamel Artis (17 points). Chris Jones also added 12 points for the Panthers.
This is Pitt’s first seven-game losing streak since the 2011-12 season as this team is struggling in ACC play. It was the defense that was the letdown for Kevin Stallings’ group on Tuesday as they couldn’t get critical stops when they needed to late in the game. The Panthers went 13-for-29 from three-point range and still lost because North Carolina was able to get pretty much anything they wanted.
Pitt has a chance to play the role of spoiler for some teams down the stretch but the defense has to get better.