CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.
Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.
UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.
Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.
The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.
Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.
Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige — the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump — looked more like his old self against the Panthers.
That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.
The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.
Pittsburgh: Young didn’t start for the first time this season, though coach Jamie Dixon said afterward it was “nothing major but something that just had to be addressed.” He didn’t elaborate further. … Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.
UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.
Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.
UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.
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