PITTSBURGH — Cam Johnson scored 15 points in his homecoming and No. 15 North Carolina made quick work of Pittsburgh in an 85-60 victory on Saturday.
Johnson, a graduate transfer from the Pittsburgh suburbs who left the Panthers in the spring of 2017, shook off the boos and hit his first three shots as the Tar Heels (11-3, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) opened league play by providing the rebuilding Panthers a reminder of how far they still have to go under first-year head coach Jeff Capel.
Johnson grabbed a season-high nine rebounds for North Carolina. Coby White led the Tar Heels with 22 points, Luke Maye added 17 points and 11 rebounds and North Carolina used a 16-0 run in the first half to subdue the first sellout crowd at the Petersen Events Center in nearly two years.
Trey McGowens scored 17 points for the Panthers (10-4, 0-1) and fellow freshman Xavier Johnson chipped in 14, but Pitt lost its 23rd straight regular-season ACC game. The Panthers shot just 31 percent (19 of 62) from the field and struggled to get into any kind of rhythm. Pitt turned it over 15 times, made only 2 of 19 3-pointers and couldn’t keep up once the adrenaline wore off.
Cam Johnson played parts of three seasons for Pitt but left after graduating in 2017. The school granted his release so he could transfer to North Carolina only after Johnson went public with the request . He has evolved into an effective starter for the Tar Heels, where he has become more than just a 6-foot-8 spot-up shooter.
Johnson knocked down a pair of 3-pointers early but Pittsburgh — attempting to reassert itself under Capel following Kevin Stallings’ nightmarish two-year tenure — briefly stayed in it. Freshman Au’Diese Toney’s tip-in brought the Panthers to within 15-14 with 11:58 to go in the first half before reality set in.
Pitt missed its next 11 shots while the Tar Heels did whatever they wanted at the other end. By the time McGowens ended the Panthers’ dry spell with a 3-pointer, North Carolina led by 21. The gulf between the two programs came into stark contrast in the final seconds of the half.
North Carolina’s Leaky Black chased down a Pitt miss, fed Cameron Johnson, who dribbled to halfcourt, then hit a streaking White for a layup at the buzzer to put the Tar Heels up 45-23 at the break.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels can be hit or miss with their defensive intensity but overwhelmed the Panthers over the final 10 minutes of the first half to take control. The Tar Heels will need to muster it more often against better opponents.
Pitt: Even with large swaths of light blue in the arena, that the Panthers were able to fill The Pete offers tangible proof of the optimism Capel has brought to the table in his first few months on the job. Turning that optimism into ACC wins, however, is another matter. The Panthers played hard but their offensive weaknesses and lack of size were exploited at will by the bigger, deeper and more talented Tar Heels.