North Carolina endured an 80-75 loss against Pittsburgh on Friday in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. Here’s the story of the game – a story about the Tar Heels’ ongoing search to rediscover the kind of execution and intensity that led to their 12-game winning streak.
And some thoughts …
1. UNC is left searching, again, for the intangibles.
For the fourth consecutive game the Tar Heels walked off the court believing they hadn’t given everything they had. UNC wasn’t at its best, at its most energetic, towards the end of the regular season against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. The Tar Heels won those games, anyway. After their regular season-ending loss against Duke, though, UNC coach Roy Williams and his players spoke of the importance of finding that “it” factor – whatever it is – that the team had during that 12-game winning streak. The Tar Heels didn’t have it on Friday. They weren’t sharp defensively, or when it came to rebounding, and they only seemed to play with maximum urgency after Pitt built a 20-point lead with 7 ½ minutes to play.
2. Is Marcus Paige’s health a concern?
Paige played with his left wrist and thumb wrapped in a bandage. A precautionary measure, a team spokesman said, because Paige’s thumb has been nagging him all season. It sure didn’t seem like Paige’s thumb bothered him, especially in the second half. He scored 20 of his 27 points after halftime, and 14 of those came in the final seven minutes, when UNC was in desperation mode. Paige played well in the second half, and especially late in the second half, but he did struggle to get going again. That’s been a theme for him this season. Whether the thumb has anything to do with it is up for debate. Paige certainly wouldn’t admit that the injury – if you can call it an injury – bothers him. He’s played a ton of minutes this season, though, and played 35 more on Friday. Paige, who left the game briefly early in the second half after taking a knee to the leg, can’t be hobbled in the postseason.
3. It’s time to be concerned about UNC’s rebounding.
The Tar Heels finished with 20 rebounds – their fewest since 1987 – in the loss at Duke last week. On Friday, Pitt out rebounded UNC 43-35, and the Panthers outscored the Tar Heels 21-6 on second-chance points. The Tar Heels have been a good rebounding team this season – and at times they’ve been a dominant offensive rebounding team. Not so the past two games, though. James Michael McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto both led UNC with seven rebounds apiece, and Brice Johnson had six rebounds. Nobody else had more than four rebounds for UNC.
Pitt held a comfortable margin in three of the four, with the Tar Heels winning turnovers thanks to their full-court, trapping press they used late in the second half.
All the Tar Heels can do now is wait. Selection Sunday is upon us, and UNC will soon find out where it’s headed in the NCAA tournament. The expression, “Go west, young man,” comes to mind.