CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Things just haven't gotten easier for No. 25 Pittsburgh.
When Pitt lost at home to Duke on Jan. 27, it was 6-2 in its inaugural run through the Atlantic Coast Conference. But Saturday's 75-71 loss at North Carolina marked the Panthers' fifth straight game decided by five or fewer points, with Jamie Dixon's squad losing three — two on last-second shots — while its two wins came in overtime or double overtime.
"It affects us a lot," fifth-year senior Lamar Patterson said. "We're not beating teams the way we should be or beating teams when it comes down to the end. We're just not getting it done."
It started with a home loss on a last-second 3-pointer to Virginia, followed by an overtime win at Miami and a double-overtime home win against Virginia Tech. Then came Wednesday's loss to top-ranked and unbeaten Syracuse at home on Tyler Ennis' desperation 3-pointer at the horn.
Patterson said his team has "to get it done the whole game so it doesn't come down to these situations" late in games.
"We're not executing well enough, we're not finishing well enough, we're not doing things well enough," Dixon said. "We've played good teams, there's no question about it, and close games. ... But they don't count for anything."
For North Carolina, James Michael McAdoo had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the Tar Heels' sixth straight victory.
Marcus Paige added 18 points for the Tar Heels (17-7, 7-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who extended the season's longest winning streak three days after their rivalry game against Duke was postponed due to a winter storm. They shot 48 percent after halftime and led by 12 with about 9 minutes left, but had to fight off a late push from the Panthers (20-6, 8-5).
Pitt fought back to within three with the ball in the final 10 seconds. But Patterson missed a 3-pointer for the tie, and then Talib Zanna missed a putback attempt before Patterson fouled on the rebound with 2.8 seconds left. UNC's Brice Johnson hit his second free throw to make it a two-possession game and clinch the win.
McAdoo made 11 of 18 shots, while Paige made 5 of 6 3-pointers. Johnson added 13 points off the bench with seven rebounds and five blocked shots, including one on a driving layup by James Robinson with the Tar Heels up 74-68 in the final minute.
Patterson scored 16 points to lead the Panthers, who were even with the Tar Heels in several statistical categories — from rebounds to second-chance points and points off turnovers — but trailed throughout the second half and never could quite level the game.
The Tar Heels dug their way out of an 0-3 ACC start with their five-game winning streak that restored some optimism in Chapel Hill. But the five wins had come against teams that were a combined 26-32 in the league entering Saturday's games, and none had come against a team better than sixth in the league.
They're starting a four-games-in-eight days stretch, with the next stop coming Monday at Florida State followed by Thursday's rescheduled game against the Blue Devils.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap