The Verizon Center in our nation's capital, Washington D.C., is hosting the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Many consider the ACC the premier basketball conference in America. Thursday was filled with four great quarterfinal matchups, and the first quarterfinal of the day was the bubble-team Pittsburgh Panthers against the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tar Heels won the ACC regular season championship outright after a victory over the Duke Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor.
After beating the Syracuse Orange in the second round, many thought the Panthers would give North Carolina a run for their money. It was a tight game for all but the last three minutes of the first half. Pittsburgh even tied it about five minutes into the second half. You would not be able to tell that by the final score. Everything was clicking for the Heels as they handled business and defeated the Panthers 88-71.
Panthers Kept In The Cage
Jamel Artis began the game on his own 8-0 run. It seemed like the offense was going to carry over from Wednesday's game. Fatigue then caught up and started to slow the Panthers down. James Robinson and Cameron Johnson were huge in the win over Syracuse. They were not much help today, though. Robinson and Johnson combined shot 5-of-18 for the game.
Turning the ball over 12 times doesn't seem so bad. However, when you are the Pittsburgh Panthers, it is bad. Pittsburgh is one of the top teams in the nation when it comes to handling the ball. Robinson actually has the best assist-to-turnover percentage in the history of the NCAA. Uncharacteristically, he turned the ball over four times. With all that being said, the Panthers played a great game. Artis and Michael Young led the way with 19 points each. It just wasn't enough to beat the Tar Heels. The defense of Pittsburgh just looked fatigued.
Tar Heels Shoot Lights Out; Berry II Shines
How well did North Carolina shoot? Well, the net on their end was replaced at halftime, literally. The Tar Heels shot 59 percent as a team for the whole game. Many have been expecting this kind of game from North Carolina all season, scoring in every single way, inside and out. Marcus Paige (8 points) has yet to break out of his slump, but he looked much more comfortable today. Brice Johnson has spoiled Tar Heel fans all season with outstanding double-double numbers. Today was no different as Johnson (19 points and 10 rebounds) posted his 20th double-double. Justin Jackson contributed 11 points of his own.
Is it a changing of the guard in Chapel Hill? Many seem to think so as Joel Berry II is starting to emerge as the best guard on this North Carolina team. Berry dominated this game with a game-high 20 points and four steals. He only missed one shot, going 7-for-8. Any team that is going to excel and win in March needs toughness. Berry brings that to the Tar Heels. He has a certain toughness and scrappiness to him that lights a fire under this team. While everyone wants more out of Marcus Paige, Joel Berry is quietly becoming the leader of this team.
North Carolina will look for revenge against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Friday in the semifinals at 7 PM EST. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Panthers will go home and wait to hopefully hear their name called on Selection Sunday.