CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — This time, the 3-pointer missed its mark and yet the result was the same — another Pitt loss.
The Panthers battled North Carolina to the waning seconds Saturday afternoon, but Lamar Patterson’s 3-point attempt to tie the score in the final seconds missed the mark and the Tar Heels held on for a 75-71 win before a crowd of 20,341 at the Dean E. Smith Center.
Pitt (20-6, 8-5 ACC) has lost four of its past six games. It has been on the wrong end of this kind of game too often recently, and coach Jamie Dixon said that, while he loves his team’s effort, it is all for naught if they don’t win.
“We had our opportunities,” Dixon said. “We’ve got to go out and execute better. I’m extremely disappointed. I am impressed by how our guys played, we battled through some adversity. I thought we executed well down the stretch, better than we did earlier in the game.
“Our penetration was good, but we need to make better decisions, we need to finish better, too. We’re not executing well enough, we’re not finishing well enough. We’ve played close games, we’ve played good teams well, but it doesn’t count for anything [if Pitt loses the game].”
One of the biggest reasons the Panthers trailed, 35-31, at halftime was that center Talib Zanna could not finish. He was 0 for 5 from the field and missed several attempts from around the rim.
Zanna didn’t do much better in the second half, going 2 for 11 from the field. He finished with only five points and eight rebounds. Part of his problem was the Tar Heels’ tall and tough frontcourt.
Dixon said Zanna needs to finish better, but he isn’t the only one who struggled to finish on inside shots.
Pitt jumped to an early lead and led by 18-11 with 11:12 left in the half after Patterson made a 3-pointer.
The Tar Heels seemed to be reeling. Pitt was beating them to loose balls and forcing turnovers, including one on an inbound pass where Cameron Wright stepped right in to seize possession.
Patterson picked up his second foul with Pitt leading, 20-17, with 9:35 to play, and Dixon sat him the rest of the half.
With Patterson on the bench, the Tar Heels made a run, closing the half by outscoring Pitt, 18-11, and grabbing a 35-31 halftime lead.
Patterson said he didn’t agree with Dixon’s decision, but he understood the coach did not want him to pick up his third foul.
“When you sit two leaders out for that long [Cam Wright also had to sit with two fouls], two fouls or not, it takes you out of rhythm,” Patterson said. “I didn’t want to come out at all, but coach has his system and he sticks with it.”
Dixon said of his decision to keep Patterson out so long: “I don’t think so, it is easy to say that now, it was being called tight. It is easy to sit back afterward and it is kind of what we have done. And, to be honest, I thought the other guys were playing well, too, and that was a part of it.”
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said stopping Patterson, who played 24 minutes and still led the Panthers with 16 points, was a key for the Tar Heels, and he acknowledged his foul trouble was a big part of why they took control.
“Lamar is a really big-time player,” Williams said. “The first thing is that it helped he got two fouls in the first half and sat out all that time. That was the biggest part of [North Carolina’s ability to stop him]. He is one of the most complete players I think there is in college basketball.”
North Carolina led, 46-42, with 12:50 to play, before making a 15-7 run and building a 61-49 lead on Brice Johnson’s 3-point play with 8:50 left.
The Panthers fought their way back with a 10-2 rally and trailed, 63-59, with 6:04 to go after Patterson’s 3-point play.
Pitt got to within three at 65-62 and 67-64 but couldn’t tie the score. With six seconds left and trailing. 68-65, Patterson missed his last-gap 3-point attempt.
It was the Panthers’ second tough loss in a row after they fell to Syracuse, 58-56, Wednesday night on Tyler Ennis’ 3-pointer at the buzzer. It also was Pitt’s fourth loss in its past six games.
Patterson got some help from freshman forward Jamel Artis, who had a career-high 13 points and seven rebounds, and guard James Robinson, who contributed 10 points and five rebounds.
James Michael McAdoo led North Carolina (17-7, 7-4) with 24 points and 12 rebounds, and Marcus Paige added 18 points and had four assists.
Pitt will have a week to get things turned around because the Panthers don’t play again until next Sunday when they will play host to Florida State to begin the five-game stretch that ends the regular season.
“We’ve got eight days to get ready,” Dixon said. “And we can’t let [the close losses] hinder us.”
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 or Twitter: @paulzeise. First Published February 15, 2014 4:19 PM