North Carolina became the first preseason No. 1 team in the past 40 years to suffer a fifth loss prior to New Year’s Day on Friday as the No. 25 Tar Heels lost 76-74 at Pitt. UNC took a 55-46 lead with 11:55 remaining but made just 2 of its next 12 shots as Pitt came to life for a key ACC victory.
Jamarius Burton led the Panthers with a career-high 31 points on 14-of-17 shooting. The Tar Heels shot just 33% from the floor in the second half and could not keep up despite going 15 of 19 from the free-throw line in the half. Armando Bacot led the Tar Heels with 22 points and 13 rebounds in the loss, but UNC was outscored 42-26 in the paint as its defense wilted. The Panthers also outscored North Carolina 7-2 in second-chance points in the second half after the Tar Heels dominated the offensive glass while taking a 40-34 lead into halftime.
The loss sends North Carolina into a new calendar year on a sour note after the Tar Heels appeared to have stabilized things with a four-game December winning streak that included victories over Georgia Tech, The Citadel, Ohio State and Michigan.
Though suffering a fifth defeat is far from ideal for North Carolina, a loss to Pittsburgh is not as catastrophic this season as it has been in year’s past. The Panthers entered at No. 73 in the NET, meaning the loss will go down as a Quad 1 defeat for the Tar Heels. Pitt is now 10-4 (3-0 ACC) and on track for its best season under fifth-year coach Jeff Capel.
All five of North Carolina’s losses are of the Quad 1 variety, and the Tar Heels’ resume shouldn’t take too much of a hit after they entered the game as a projected No. 7 seed in Jerry Palm’s Bracketology. But after a 1-2 start to ACC play, UNC has an early hole to dig out of if it is going to compete for a league title.