CHAPEL HILL, NC — North Carolina couldn’t solve Pittsburgh again. The Panthers clawed out a 65-64 defeat of the Tar Heels on Wednesday night in ACC basketball at the Smith Center, as Jamarius Burton’s go-ahead pair of free throws with 3.4 seconds remaining became the difference.
UNC inbounded from the frontcourt with 0.6 seconds left, and Caleb Love tried to get off a fading 3-pointer that was denied by Pitt’s Nike Sibande, the blocked shot sending the Panthers celebrating as the final horn sounded. Pitt picked up his fifth victory in the last six meetings between these teams, and he won three straight visits here to Chapel Hill.
The Tar Heels (15-7 overall, 7-4 ACC), returning from a seven-day break between games, suffered their first loss at home this season, while missing on the chance to vault past Pitt (16-7, 9- 3) and into sole possession of third place in the crowded league standing. UNC entered the night 10-0 at home, including 5-0 in ACC games.
But this was a struggle throughout for the Tar Heels, who shot just 34.8 percent from the field, including 18.5 percent from 3-point range, and 59.1 percent from the free throw line, as their four-game winning streak ran out. UNC went 1-for-14 beyond the 3-point arc during the second half, yet led 46-40 when Pete Nance converted on a cutting bucket in the lane and flexed his arms in a fired-up response.
Love’s 22 points topped UNC. Armando Bacot (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Nance (13 points) also reached double figures. Bacot and RJ Davis shot a combined 6-for-25 from the field and 11-for-19 from the free throw line.
Nelly Cummings connected on five 3-pointers and supplied 21 points to pace Pitt. Burton finished with 19 points on 6-for-18 shooting, while giving the Tar Heels fits at times on how to match up defensively. UNC defensive specialist Leaky Black whistled for his third and fourth fouls on back-to-back calls during the first four minutes of the second half.
Burton erupted for a career-high 31 points five weeks ago when the Panthers won the first matchup of the season between these teams in Pittsburgh. Ultimately, he haunted the Tar Heels again Wednesday night with the game-winning free throws.
UNC later fell behind by seven points on three occasions during the game’s final 9½ minutes, and trailed 61-55 with less than five minutes remaining, before rallying ahead 64-63 on Bacot’s pair of free throws with 1:07 to go.
Armando Bacot under wraps early
Bacot, who entered as the second-leading scorer in the ACC, didn’t crack the scoring column until the 5:06 mark of the first half. His slow start picked up somewhat soon thereafter, when the big man scored five straight points while the Tar Heels didn’t change ends of the court.
Burton had a turnover with 4:38 remaining, and UNC effectively kept possession until the 3:43 mark. Nance kept two Bacot missed free throws alive on the offensive boards, as Bacot sandwiched free throws around a bucket off a deep post-up to produce his five-point stop on that side of the court.
He finished the game 3-of-10 from the floor and 9-of-15 from the free throw line.
Caleb Love’s active start
Love got going early Wednesday night with 13 first-half points, a start that didn’t have the same efficiency he enjoyed in last week’s win at Syracuse. Love had taken 10 shots from the field by halftime here against Pittsburgh, more than he attempted for the game at Syracuse — when he went 4-for-7 from the field, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range, and scored 15 points.
Still, the Tar Heels needed the offense from Love to stay within 34-33 of Pitt by the end of their cold-shooting first half (30.6 percent from the field). He scored nine of UNC’s first 17 points and 12 of the team’s first 22 points. When his third 3-pointer connected, Love and Nance had combined on 19 of their team’s first 22 points.
Next on the schedule
North Carolina shoots for its third straight victory against rival Duke on Saturday night. The Tar Heels triumphed 94-81 in their last visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC, defeating Duke in retiring coach Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell game at home. Four weeks later in New Orleans, UNC delivered another epic victory over the Blue Devils, winning 81-77 in the Final Four to send Krzyzewski into retirement on a loss.
Duke, now under coach Jon Scheyer, is 11-0 at home this season, including 5-0 in ACC games. The Blue Devils (16-6, 7-4) have won three of their last four games since losing at league-leading Clemson, and four of their last six since getting blasted by NC State in Raleigh to open the month of January.