CHAPEL HILL, NC — North Carolina couldn’t solve Pittsburgh again. The Panthers won a 65-64 loss to the Tar Heels on Wednesday night in ACC basketball at the Smith Center, as Jamarius Burton’s pair of free throws with 3.4 seconds left became the difference.
UNC entered from the frontcourt with 0.6 seconds left, and Caleb Love tried to pull out a fading 3-pointer, which was denied by Pitt’s Nike Sibande, the blocked shot sending the Panthers celebrating as the final horn sounded. Pitt has won his fifth win in the last six meetings between these teams and has won three straight visits here at Chapel Hill.
The Tar Heels (15-7 aggregate, 7-4 ACC), returning from a seven-day break between games, suffered their first home loss this season, while missing the opportunity to pass Pitt (16 -7, 9- 3) and in sole possession of the third place in the crowded league standings. UNC entered the night 10-0 at home, including 5-0 in ACC games.
But it was a struggle throughout for the Tar Heels, who shot just 34.8% from the field, including 18.5% from 3-point range and 59.1% from the free-throw line, as their streak four-game winning streak has run out. UNC went 1 for 14 from beyond the 3-point arc during the second half but led 46-40 when Pete Nance converted on a cut bucket in the lane and flagged arms in a fiery response.
Love’s 22 points topped UNC. Armando Bacot (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Nance (13 points) also hit 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 provided 21 points to beat Pitt. Burton finished with 19 points on 6-for-18 shooting, while occasionally giving the Tar Heels tweaks on how to measure up defensively. UNC defensive specialist Leaky Black was called for his third and fourth fouls on back-to-back calls in the first four minutes of the second half.
Burton hit a career-high 31 points five weeks ago when the Panthers won the season opener between those teams in Pittsburgh. Ultimately, he haunted the Tar Heels again on Wednesday night with the game-winning free throws.
UNC then trailed seven points three times in the final 9½ minutes of the game and led 61-55 with less than five minutes remaining, before rallying 64-63 on the pair of free throws of Bacot with 1:07 to go.
Armando Bacot under wraps
Bacot, who entered as the ACC’s second-leading scorer, didn’t break into the scoring column until 5:06 into the first half. His slow start picked up a bit soon after, when the big man scored five straight while the Tar Heels didn’t change ends of the field.
Burton had a turnover with 4:38 remaining, and UNC effectively held possession until 3:43. Nance kept two missed free throws from Bacot alive on the offensive boards, as Bacot sandwiched free throws around a bucket from a deep post-up to produce his five-point save 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.
Active start of Caleb Love
Love started early Wednesday night with 13 first-half points, a start that didn’t have the same efficiency as last week’s win at Syracuse. Love had taken 10 shots from the field at halftime here against Pittsburgh, more than he had attempted for the game at Syracuse — when he went 4 for 7 from the field, including 3 for 5 3-pointers, and scored 15 points.
Still, the Tar Heels needed Love’s offense to stay within 34-33 of Pitt at the end of their cold 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 19 of their team’s first 22 points.
Next on the calendar
North Carolina is aiming for its third straight win over arch-rival Duke on Saturday night. The Tar Heels prevailed 94-81 in their last visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, beating Duke in outgoing coach Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell game at home. Four weeks later in New Orleans, UNC picked up another epic win over the Blue Devils, winning 81-77 in the Final Four to send Krzyzewski into retirement with 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 league-leading Clemson and four of their last six since being beaten by NC State in Raleigh for open January.