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Pitt Upsets No. 15 North Carolina in ACC Quarterfinals

After an up and down year, Pittsburgh finally managed to play a complete game and hang on to a lead against a good team—something they struggled with in the second half of the season. The good news for Panthers fans is that it happened at the best possible time.

As one of Selection Sunday’s many bubble teams, Pitt’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament were decent before getting a statement win the in ACC Tournament. And the 80-75 victory over North Carolina on Friday should really improve their standing.

The Panthers blew a few late-game leads this season, including two heart-breakers against formerly No. 1 ranked Syracuse, a familiar foe. They managed to build up such an impressive lead against UNC, that not even a last minute stumble could sink them.

Just over midway through the first half, Pitt was already up 15 points on UNC, a lead that was largely maintained until the final two minutes of the game. At one point in the second half they stretched that lead to 20.

The Tar Heels managed to make it interesting down the stretch—or maybe it was Pitt that really made it interesting—capitalizing on typical Panther mistakes to pull within three. But ultimately their dramatic surge, led by a manic Marcus Paige, came too late.

Leading Pittsburgh’s offense was Talib Zanna, a fifth-year-senior, who had one of the best games of his career to date, netting 19 points and 21 rebounds. James Robinson also had a big day, scoring a career-high 19 points.

The Panthers have now won five of their last six, battling back from a three-game losing skid that threatened to keep them out of the Tournament for the second time in three years. It’s hard to imagine any scenario that would keep them out now.

Next up for fifth-seeded Pitt is a showdown with one-seed Virginia. They’ve got quite a mountain to climb, as the Cavaliers are currently ranked No. 8 in the Coaches poll and No. 6 in the AP.

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