Pittsburgh finally got a win it needed to enhance its NCAA tournament resume Friday by beating North Carolina 80-75 in the ACC tournament, but the Panthers almost gave it away at the free throw line.
Pitt led 51-33 with 10 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the game. From that point to the end of the final buzzer, the Panthers combined to make only 13 of 29 free throws. North Carolina took advantage of the shakiness, surging to within four points twice in the final minute before coming up short.
The Panthers advanced to play Virginia in the semifinals Saturday when they hope to secure only their second win of the season over a team with an RPI in the top 40 in the nation. The victory over North Carolina was Pitt's first over a top-40 RPI team this season and only its second over a top-50 RPI team. The first came against Stanford 31/2 months ago on Nov. 26.
There is little doubt Pitt will have a spot in the NCAA field. This is the team that nearly beat Syracuse twice, being prevented from doing so once only because of a near-half-court shot by Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis at the buzzer.
Pitt seems to have righted itself after a midseason slump in late-January and most of February in which it lost five of seven games.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams has to feel a little anxious entering the tournament next week. The Tar Heels seemed to have figured out their early season inconsistency problems during a 12-game winning streak almost up to the end of the season. But UNC was drubbed by rival Duke in the regular season finale and might have been blown out once again Friday if not for Pitt's problems shooting free throws.
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