PITTSBURGH (AP) – Pittsburgh’s players had been back in town barely nine hours following a draining loss at Louisville on Wednesday when they assembled for practice.
During the short but physical workout, coach Jamie Dixon reiterated – again – the need for his young team to grow up quickly.
“The message was sent,” Dixon said.
Sheldon Jeter scored a career-high 22 points and the Panthers dismantled No. 12 North Carolina 89-76 on Saturday. Cameron Wright added 15 points and 10 assists in his return from a left ankle injury as the Panthers (17-9, 6-6 ACC), who shot 65 percent from the field (37 of 57) and never trailed while winning for the fourth time in five games.
Two of those victories have come at home against ranked opponents. Pitt edged Notre Dame two weeks ago but had no trouble against the Tar Heels (18-7, 8-4). The Panthers led by as much as 24 in the second half during its most impressive victory of an erratic season.
“It’s no secret we’re a bubble team right now,” Wright said. “We didn’t want to let the opportunity pass us.”
A phrase Jeter has repeated to himself several times over the last three months. The sophomore forward transferred to Pitt in 2013 after spending his freshman year at Vanderbilt. He sat out last season and expected to make an immediate impact. Instead he spent weeks seeing his minutes fluctuate wildly. Thrust into a more prominent role against last Saturday against Syracuse, he poured in 18 points. He was even better against the Tar Heels, knocking down 10 of 14 shots, most of them midrange jumpers after he found soft spots in North Carolina’s zone.
“I got to a point where I wasn’t playing that much,” Jeter said. “I had to take advantage of opportunities I was given or just end up at the end of the bench.”
Don’t expect Jeter to spend much time watching the rest of the way. His confidence surging, Jeter is starting to figure it out. So are his teammates. Pitt collected 30 assists on its 37 field goals – the second-most ever allowed by North Carolina in the program’s lengthy history – and didn’t let up until things were well in hand. It’s a concept that eluded them against Louisville, when a six-point lead with 10 minutes to go turned into a 13-point loss.
Jeter admitted the Panthers were intimidated by burly Cardinals’ forward Montrezl Harrell, afterward, a word choice that stung Dixon even if there was more than a hint of truth in it.
“I felt like we had a lot to prove,” Jeter said. “Our toughness, our manhood got questioned after the Louisville game and tonight we showed how much of men we are.”
Brice Johnson led North Carolina with 19 points but the Tar Heels had no answer for Jeter in the program’s first game since the death of retired Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith.
The Tar Heels hadn’t played in seven days, a tumultuous stretch that included Smith’s passing and the murder of a Muslim graduate student, his wife and sister not far from the Chapel Hill campus, though coach Roy Williams stressed it had little effect on the outcome.
“It has been a tough week,” Williams said. “That had nothing to do with the game today. Pittsburgh played fantastic. Jamie’s club was so much better prepared than we were.”
The Panthers held a moment of silence before tip-off to honor Smith, and several members of the student section held a lengthy banner that read “You should never be proud of doing the right thing, you should just do it,” one of Smith’s more famous quotes. Williams was presented with a sympathy card and the banner, small tokens of respect he said he will cherish.
“College athletics is not all bad,” Williams said. “There are some darn good things that happen.”
NOTHING BUT NET
Pitt’s 65 percent shooting was the highest allowed by North Carolina during Williams’ 12 years on the bench. Six Panthers finished in double figures and Pitt knocked down its first seven shots of the second half to blow it open and beat the Tar Heels for the second straight time.
“We were scoring but when they’re not missing a shot, it’s hard,” Johnson said. “We’re a really good rebounding team but if it’s going through the net, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
North Carolina: The Tar Heels came in second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage and had 12 against the Panthers, but 11 came in the second half, with most of them during garbage time. … Kennedy Meeks added 15 points for North Carolina.
Pitt: Wright led Pitt with 10 assists. … Jeter’s previous career-high came last week when he scored 18 in a win over Syracuse.
North Carolina plays at Duke on Wednesday.
Pitt travels to Virginia on Monday.