North Carolina Streaking With Six Wins in a RowPosted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 16th, 2014
North Carolina continued its climb up the ACC standings, bursting into fourth place with a 75-71 win over Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill. James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige led the way as the Tar Heels held a lead for the entire second half and withstood a furious Panthers’ rally in the closing minutes. For North Carolina, which started ACC play with three straight losses, this wasn’t just its sixth consecutive victory, but it’s probably the best win of the Heels’ recent streak. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, continues to tumble in the opposite direction, losing four of their last six games after starting conference play 6-1.
Pittsburgh got off to a good start in the first half, leading 18-11 after nine minutes of play. The Tar Heels began to chip away at the lead, finally catching and passing the Panthers late to take a 35-31 lead into the locker room. North Carolina didn’t shoot well in the first stanza (40.6%) but the Heels collected nine offensive rebounds and attacked the basket well enough to put Pittsburgh in foul trouble. In fact, three Pittsburgh starters including star Lamar Patterson, played fewer than 10 first half minutes due to early foul difficulties, and Jamie Dixon was forced as a result to switch to zone defense for long stretches. North Carolina’s underrated defense forced 10 first half turnovers and held Pittsburgh to only 0.89 points per possession.
In the second half, North Carolina maintained control of the game and built the lead to 12 with 8:50 left. At that point, it would have been understandable if Pittsburgh had struggled to hang around, coming off a tough stretch of games including Wednesday’s crushing loss to Syracuse. But the Panthers showed their famous toughness and went on an 11-2 run to close to within two with 5:00 to go. North Carolina responded in kind, but Pittsburgh would not go away. A late rally led to a Panthers’ possession down three with the game on the line. James Robinson passed up an open three-point opportunity and opted to drive to the basket where he missed a contested layup. Then after getting the ball back in an out-of-bounds situation, Patterson missed a guarded three and the Tar Heels hung on. Here are some key takeaways for each team after Saturday’s game.
Takeaways for North Carolina (17-7 , 7-4 ACC). McAdoo is making a strong case for all-ACC honors. He was the best player on the floor Saturday with game highs in points (24) and rebounds (12), and his seven offensive rebounds were huge as well. He also continues to be quite efficient, shooting 11-of-18 from the field and only committing one turnover in the game. Marcus Paige punished the Panthers from deep, hitting 5-of-6 from three and contributing on defense as well, finishing with five steals. Brice Johnson gave the Tar Heels solid play off the bench, scoring 13 points, grabbing seven boards, and blocking five shots. Roy Williams seems to have settled on a core rotation of seven players, but freshman Isaiah Hicks may be making a case for that number to go to eight. Hicks played a solid 12 minutes (four points on 2-of-2 shooting, two rebounds and two blocks), which is the most he’s played in a month. The Tar Heels have a tough week ahead with a road trip to Florida State (Monday – 7:00 PM ET), followed by the make-up game with Duke in Chapel Hill (Thursday – 9:00 PM ET). Then Wake Forest comes to the Smith Center (Saturday - 12:00 PM ET) to make it a stretch of four games in eight days. But as Williams said in the postgame press conference, “18-19 year olds shouldn’t get tired.”
Takeaways for Pittsburgh (20-6 , 8-5 ACC). It’s been a been a brutal six-game stretch for Pittsburgh. Even their two wins in the group were unimpressive – overtime victories over ACC bottom-dwellers Miami and Virginia Tech. It’s not hard to identify what’s changed for the Panthers. Their two senior leaders, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, have been struggling, and both need to be good for Pittsburgh to compete with other top teams. The recent drop in production for the duo is staggering. Comparing the numbers from their first seven ACC games to the last six, Patterson’s scoring average has dropped from 19.9 PPG to 14.0 PPG and his field goal shooting go from 50.0 percent to 29.3 percent. Likewise, Zanna’s scoring has dropped from 16.6 PPG to 8.5 PPG and his shooting from 66.7 percent to 34.1 percent. At least they got an encouraging performance from reserve freshman forward Jamel Artis, who had 13 points and seven rebounds. Perhaps the upcoming week-long break will help heal Patterson (thumb) and give Zanna a chance to rest — he looked like a tired player on Saturday. Pittsburgh will next take the court when it hosts Florida State (Sunday – 6:00 PM ET). After that the Panthers have two winnable road games at Boston College and Notre Dame.
- “They’re [UNC players] buying in to the whole thing, [playing with] the sense of urgency.”- Roy Williams, discussing his team’s recent good play.
- “ We came in thinking we needed to [win the] offensive rebounding and turnovers. Those were two things we had to do (to win) and we didn’t get it done.” – Jamie Dixon, discussing keys to Pittsburgh’s loss.
- ” They’re [Pittsburgh] a tough bunch. They’re awfully good. I’m glad we don’t have to go to Pittsburgh this year” - Williams, on the Panthers.
- “It’s what you expect. Every team’s got challenges. We’ve just got to be better.” - Dixon, responding to a question about the recent stretch of tough games.