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Takeaways: Pitt Gets ‘Hard-fought’ and Crucial Win at UNC

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Federiko Federiko and Jamarius Burton box out Armando Bacot as Pitt plays against North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023 in Chapel Hill. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)
Federiko Federiko and Jamarius Burton box out Armando Bacot as Pitt plays against North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023 in Chapel Hill. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Playing well in crucial moments inside the Dean E. Smith Center is nothing new for Jamarius Burton. The Charlotte native led his high school squad to state championship in this building in 2018.

So, when Pitt took possession with 27.7 seconds left – trailing the North Carolina Tar Heels by a single point Wednesday night – Burton was comfortable having the ball in his hands with thousands of Carolina fans cheering against him. While driving to the basket, Burton was fouled with 3.4 seconds left. And then, like ice water ran through his veins, the cool senior guard swished a pair of free throws to give the Panthers the lead.

“Coach drew it up in the huddle. He wanted whoever RJ Davis was guarding to come set me a screen and it just worked out in our favor,” Burton said. “The biggest thing is just staying even keeled. I have coaches and players who believe in me. They just continue to put the battery in my back.”

UNC had a chance to win it with 0.6 seconds left, but Nike Sibande was all up in Caleb Love’s grill and got a hand on the Tar Heels’ last-ditch shot attempt. Pitt won 65-64, leaving a whole lot of people wearing Carolina blue with a sour taste in their mouths.

“You can’t go at Nike,” Pitt forward Blake Hinson said after the game.

For Pitt, the win marks its first ever three-game winning streak against the Tar Heels. The Panthers are 5-2 against UNC under Jeff Capel, and have won five of their past six meetings with the Tar Heels.

This is also the third time this season Pitt has won at least three games in a row. And the Panthers’ triumph snapped a four-game winning streak for the Tar Heels.

“What a great, hard-fought college basketball game. Both teams really, really battled, fought, competed. I’m really, really proud of my team,” Capel said. “This was a gritty win for us. We just found a way to make plays.”

Perhaps most importantly for Pitt, this win against UNC is another in Quad 1 for the Panthers, which should boost its resume for the NCAA Tournament. Pitt is now 4-2 in games against Quad 1 teams and has two such contests remaining on its schedule – at Virginia Tech on Feb. 18 and at Miami on March 4. Before this win over Carolina, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi was projecting the Panthers among the “Last Four In” to the tournament field.

“These guys don’t blink,” Capel said.

Nelly Cummings powered Pitt with 21 points and three assists in the win, while Burton added 19 points and five boards. Sibande chipped in 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds.

UNC’s largest lead was in the first half at seven points, as they opened the game outscoring Pitt 14-7. Nance had five points during that stretch for the Heels.

Pitt started storming back near the end of the first half, but had to do so without the play of leading scorer Blake Hinson, who was on the bench with two fouls. But Burton stepped up, scoring seven points over the final seven minutes of the first half, helping Pitt take a one-point advantage into intermission.

Inside the locker room at halftime, Capel told his players, “Trust each other. This is our half.”

The Panthers initially squandered their lead – allowing UNC to take a six-point advantage – but then they caught fire, breaking off a 15-2 run that was kickstarted by Cummings making three straight 3-pointers.

Cummings fouled out late in the game, but finished it with five 3-pointers made. It’s the third time this season he’s made that many for Pitt and the Panthers are 3-0 in those games.

“From the outside in, it may seem like we’re shorthanded, but every time we’ve met adversity, it’s just next man up,” Cummings said.

Also key for Pitt was its ability to stifle the reigning ACC Player of the Year, Armando Bacot. The hulking UNC center finished the game with 15 points and 11 boards, but shot just 3-of-10 from the floor and had two turnovers. It’s just the second time this season that Bacot has played a full game and finished with three or less made baskets.

Capel was especially complimentary of Federiko Federiko, who finished with eight points, four rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes of action.

“I thought (Federiko) was terrific. I mean, Bacot is one of the best players in the country, certainly one of the best big guys,” Capel said. “I thought he did an outstanding job of pushing him off the block and contesting his shot.”

Pitt also held UNC to 18.5% shooting from beyond the arc, which is the Heels’ third-worst 3-point mark of the season. UNC is 0-3 in games in which it shoots worse than 20% from deep.

After an emotional road game, the Panthers now have six days off before hosting ACC bottom-feeder Louisville.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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mike
1 year ago

Armando might get all the hype and the calls but the best player on the court won the game by going 6 for 6 from the foul line.

TJ
TJ
1 year ago

Big win …. another confidence booster. More importantly, it banks another tie-breaker (UNC, UVa, NCSt, Wake) that will be extremely valuable if there is a logjam at the top when the season ends. H2P !

Mtgj
Mtgj
1 year ago
Reply to  TJ

If Pitt goes 7-1 to finish the year, I believe they will win the ACC regular season title and be the number 1 seed in the tournament. This also gives them a double bye. it won’t be easy, but it’s certainly possible if you look at their schedule. H2P

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