PITTSBURGH — North Carolina twice went to the free-throw line to shoot a pair of shots in the second half and both times came up empty, except the Tar Heels ended up with the rebounds and scored off those plays.
Pitt knew that Carolina’s length was going to present some challenges, but from the opening tip Tuesday night, it was clear this was not a good matchup for the Panthers. The 75-65 setback only further proved that point.
“Their veteran, big guys, were the two guys that really impacted the game at a significant level,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “We were weren’t physical with our block outs. We weren’t physical trying to get open. They were able to take us out of some things with their pressure and we have to do a better job of that and that’s what we talked about. Rebounding was going to be a significant portion of this game. We know that’s a major strength of theirs – they’re No. 1 in the conference and No. 2 in the country in offensive rebounding, and when you know Carolina’s program, that’s what they do.”
UNC played with a sense of urgency all game long and came away with 48 points in the paint to go with 14 offensive rebounds, though the latter felt like a higher number. When Pitt had the ball, UNC’s length proved challenging with finding passing lanes and creating opportunities which led to struggles at countering the Tar Heels.
“They’re very good bigs,” Pitt sophomore forward Justin Champagnie said. “They out-rebounded us and we have to be better on the glass.”
UNC coach Roy Williams suggested his team throw it inside as it would set up the rest of the offense but it was clear that Pitt was having a difficult time handling the taller Tar Heel posts inside which made a key point in the game.
Summarizing the game, UNC’s hunger was even more evident as one of those post players, specifically forward Garrison Brooks discussed this victory.
“This is our best win of the season,” he said.
Short. Sweet. To the point. Just like North Carolina’s offense.
GET THE BALL TO CHAMPAGNIE
Champagnie had another effective game with his sixth double-double of the season and shot the ball at a high percentage, but took just nine shots, which was a bit of a surprise.
“We have to run our offense better in order to do that,” Capel said. “We have to be able to execute. We have to be able to get into entries and get the ball where we want to get it to. North Carolina did a good job of taking us out of some of our stuff today.”
Williams said UNC keyed on Champagnie and Xavier Johnson. In regards to Champagnie, the plan was for North Carolina to wall up and limit opportunities at the basket.
Champagnie does not believe he was taken out of what he is capable of doing, but echoed Capel’s sentiments of passes not being crisp which did not allow the ball to get to its intended targets.
THE TURNING POINT
After trailing 34-27 at halftime, Capel told his team to break the final 20 minutes into segment and go out and win each of those allotments.
Abdoul Karim Coulibaly is Pitt’s starting center and earlier in the year had a penchant for getting into foul trouble though he minimized the damage to one whistle in the first half.
That did not last as long in the second half as he fouled twice in 31 seconds. The third foul was a double whammy for Pitt because Armando Bacot made his shot after being fouled.
Coulibaly’s fouls brought Terrell Brown into the game and other then scoring a basket on his first trip down the court and he was repeatedly beaten for rebounds. Brown also did not go up strong in the post and as a result he was easily blocked.
Brown also got in trouble and as a result Max Amadasun, who had not seen the court since a very brief cameo Dec. 12 against Gardner-Webb would be back. He was not a difference maker either and Coulibaly re-entered after a media timeout.
“We won the first four minutes and then he picked up his third and when he went out, that hurt us,” Capel said. “That hurt us defensively, that hurt us offensively. In a game like this when you know the ball is coming inside, you have to do a better job early defensively and we have to get some help. They pushed it during that period.”
SECOND HALF SPURTS
Pitt seemed very much out of the contest as it was beaten up by fouls and trailed UNC by as many as 16 points.
There was one final run left in store for Pitt as the deficit was cut to five points coming out of the final media timeout.
“We put them in ball screens, bigs were moving,” Capel said. “We switched on everything and were unable to capitalize. We weren’t communicating as well and missed some shots at the basket. We finish those, at minimum it is a tie game. We have to be able to finish and get fouls, go to the free throw line and make those.”
The run was stunted by a UNC three-point shot and Pitt just ran out of time and answers. Still the fight was an encouraging sign, albeit too little, too late.
HE SAID IT
“I feel like we are a good defensive team when we want to be. Basketball is a game where you can’t flip the switch including myself. We have to be more energetic from the jump and we had some lackadaisical plays and that’s what happened.” – Champagnie