The Tar Heels did exactly that as the team controlled the paint defensively with nine blocks (five by Brice Johnson) and altered many more shots in a 75-71 victory. Carolina was slowed on offense by Pittsburgh going zone and forcing jump shots.
Coach Roy Williams went a different route with penetration from the wings and utilizing James Michael McAdoo out of the high post initially, then using him on the block later. McAdoo took to his role beautifully, scoring a team-high 24 points, including several highlight-reel dunks and key baskets down the stretch.
McAdoo also found teammates on backdoor cuts. Even if a shot missed, someone — usually Johnson or McAdoo — would clean it up. McAdoo grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds with seven coming on the offensive end. Marcus Paige did most of his work from the outside as he hit five 3-pointers and scored 18 points.
This is a great sign for North Carolina as postseason tournaments close in. Obviously, the Tar Heels would rather run opponents off the floor, but being able to organize an offense in the halfcourt will pay dividends when tourney time comes.
Conversely, Pittsburgh played up-and-down on offense. Before coach Jamie Dixon‘s Panthers nearly came all the way back, the team was held in check and Lamar Patterson could not find his groove. Patterson finally started to hit some shots and finished with a team-high 16 points, but only went 5-of-15 from the field.
As a team, Pittsburgh shot 26-of-64 (40.6 percent) from the field. The Panthers also committed 14 turnovers, which is four more than their season average. Pittsburgh was also outdone on the boards 42-40. While that is not a great differential, being outrebounded is becoming more and more frequent for this team.
North Carolina has now won six straight and is 7-4 in ACC play. The upcoming week features three games in six days, and could be a tell-all of what kind of team the Tar Heels will be in the NCAA tournament. Pittsburgh has now suffered back-to-back losses and are in desperate need of finding a more consistent offense. The Panthers have a week off to figure things out.
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