The 15th ranked the ranked North Carolina Tar Heels (11-3, 1-0) proved way too much for the upstart Pittsburgh Panthers (10-4, 0-1) on Saturday afternoon.
While Pitt had some nice moments early, it was an uphill battle from the start. Former Panther Cameron Johnson, who was met with boo’s every time he touched the ball, drilled the second early triple by North Carolina to give them a 6-0 lead. Pitt had an answer, however, as they rode the Xavier Johnson train on route to a 8-8 draw going into the first media timeout.
On the impact Johnson had on the Tar Heels preparation going into the game: “I didn’t sleep well very much last night thinking about trying to stop Johnson going to the basket.”
The Panthers continued to trade blows for the better part of the first eight minutes of the game, but then someone put a lid on their basket. A tip-in by Au’Diese Toney at the 12:03 mark ended up being their last made basket until a triple by Trey McGowens with 1:25 remaining in the half. Contributing to that was several errant shot attempts, turnovers, and a lack of energy. Their opponent capitalized and a 16-0 run in the midst of Pitt’s struggles helped power them to a 45-23 lead heading into the half.
“I don’t believe we had a whole lot to do with that,” was what UNC head coach Roy Williams had to say about the Panthers shooting woes.
On the shooting slump Pitt went into, Malik Ellison said after the game, “We can’t take breaks, we can’t have mental lapses like that.” He also felt that the atmosphere surrounding the game drained them a little bit: “We got fatigued from being hyped up before the game.”
For the half, the Panthers were just 6-29 (20.7%) from the field and even worse 1-10 (10%) from beyond the arc. They also had 8 turnovers and 0 assists.
They found a little more success in the second half, but that’s partially attributed to North Carolina going into cruise control. They were able to get within 22 points early in the half, but didn’t come close to ever being back in the game.
A steal and a layup by Johnson extended his double-digit scoring streak to 14 games, but that was about the only thing worth nothing if you’re a Panthers fan in the second half.
Pitt was led by the 17 points by McGowens, and while he did go 3-7 from the floor, he managed to convert just 10 of 16 free throws. As a team, the Panthers shot 19-62 from the field and a woeful 2-19 from beyond the arc. They did break even for assist-to-turnover ratio in the second half (7:7), but still had 15 turnovers on the game.
On the flip side, Cameron Johnson had a really good game in his return to the Pete. He finished with 15 points on a very efficient 6-12 from the field and added 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 0 turnovers.
“I think Cam handled it really well,” was Roy Williams response to how he felt Johnson handled the atmosphere and felt his production spoke to that.
When asked what Pitt needs to do to not be overwhelmed against ACC competition, he said, “We have to work a lot harder to get better.” The Panthers will certainly need to be a little bit better as they prepare for the Louisville Cardinals (9-4) on January 9th.