UNC's Luke Maye on the pressure to win in February
During North Carolina’s three-game losing streak, teams defeated the Tar Heels by knocking down the three ball.
UNC’s opponent Saturday night, Pittsburgh, took the same approach early, and for a while it worked. Eventually the Panthers cooled off and the Tar Heels heated up, getting back in the win column with a 96-65 win in the Dean E. Smith Center.
North Carolina’s three-game losing streak was the first of its kind since 2014, and the Tar Heels hadn’t lost four in a row since 2010, the only four-game losing streak in the Roy Williams era.
“Needless to say it was better than the last three games,” Williams said. “We talked defend, rebound and effort before the game. Our guys around here, you lose a couple and our guys start feeling pressure. I think we were tight early and missed some shots.”
Early on Pitt looked like it came to make some unwanted history.
The Panthers started the game hitting four of their first five 3-point shots, and led by as many as five points in the first half. Pitt, which came into the game shooting just 30 percent from 3-point range this season, was shooting 58 percent from deep at one point in the first half. The Panthers knocked down eight 3s in the first half, more than both Virginia Tech (seven) and N.C. State (six) had at halftime during hot shooting games against the Tar Heels.
But Pitt (8-16, 0-11 ACC) couldn’t keep it going, and North Carolina (17-7, 6-5) got a spark from a former Panther to get some separation in the first half.
Cam Johnson, coming off a career-high 32 points against Clemson Tuesday night, scored eight in a row during a 14-3 run in the first half, as North Carolina led 45-35 at the break. Johnson finished with 14 points against his former team. Last season as part of the Panthers, Johnson tied his career-high with 24 points and six made 3-pointers.
As UNC tightened up on the defensive end, Pitt started the second half 1-for-9 from the field and 0-for-6 from 3-point range, as North Carolina’s lead grew to 24 at the 12:35 mark, and the Tar Heels never looked back. Junior forward Luke Maye led the Tar Heels with 26 points. Coming off a four-point game at Clemson, Maye continues an impressive streak of averaging 25 points after games in which he scored in single digits.
Joel Berry finished with 12 and passed former Tar Heel Shammond Williams on the school list for made 3-pointers. Berry was 4-for-8 from 3, the sixth time this season he’s hit at least four 3s in one game. UNC finished with six players in double-digits as Kenny Williams added 15, while freshmen bigs Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley each addded 10 off the bench.
“We needed tonight,” senior Theo Pinson said after finishing with a game-high 13 rebounds and eight assists. “Once we relaxed we just went out there and played our style of basketball.”
The Tar Heels improved to 7-0 all-time over Pitt in Chapel Hill and have won five in a row in the series.