Pitt stresses closing out against UNC

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Pittsburgh couldn’t finish off a rally when it lost to North Carolina on Feb. 15. The Panthers believe they can now if it comes down to it when the teams meet again in the ACC tournament quarterfinals Friday at 2 p.m.

Pitt cut a 12-point deficit down to three in Chapel Hill with seven seconds left and had a chance to tie but Lamar Patterson missed an open 3-pointer.

“It was just a close game that we didn’t win,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “Since then we’ve won a lot of close games.”

Pitt won back-to-back overtime road games at Notre Dame and Clemson. The Panthers believe playing the Heels in Greensboro will be like another road game too. Fortunately for them, fatigue won’t be much of a factor. The Panthers will be relatively well rested since Wake Forest offered little resistance in Thursday’s 84-55 blowout.

“We almost came out with one down there,” said Patterson, who agreed the potential atmosphere could be the equivalent of playing Syracuse in Madison Square Garden in the old Big East tournament.

They expect a physical game against the Heels. Pitt forward Talib Zanna said Carolina outmuscled them in the first meeting.

“We have to be more aggressive on the glass we have to execute,” Zanna said. “We didn’t execute our offense (and) they were more physical than us. They were pushing us all the way out almost to halfcourt. We weren’t running out set right. They outplayed us.”

Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo posted game-highs with 24 points and 12 rebounds against Pitt. Marcus Paige scored 11 of his 18 points in the second half to help stave off the Panthers’ rally.

Unlike McAdoo and Paige, Pitt’s two best players -- Patterson and Zanna -- were hampered by injuries that often kept them from practicing down the stretch. That accounted for some of their offensive struggles, but Dixon said both were healthy now.

Pitt went 0-5 against the top four finishers in the ACC, which is why some question if it is worthy of an at-large NCAA tournament bid. A win against Carolina could quell some of the doubters, but Dixon said he wasn’t using a tournament bubble as a rallying point.

“We have to play better, we’ve got to get healthy, we’ve got to get guys out there,” Dixon said. “That’s the stuff that we can control.”