GREENSBORO, N.C. — While senior forward Talib Zanna snatched rebound after rebound, Pittsburgh kept building its lead.
It was a great combination for the Panthers in Friday afternoon’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinal.
Zanna’s 19 points and career-high 21 rebounds boosted Pittsburgh to an 80-75 victory over No. 15-ranked North Carolina, which was unable to complete a late-game comeback at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“He grabbed like every rebound,” Pittsburgh forward Lamar Patterson said of Zanna. “That’s what got us that lead. He got his bounce back.”
Guard James Robinson, a sophomore, added a career-best 19 points, Patterson had 12 points and guard Cameron Wright supplied 11 points for the Panthers, who now own a shiny victory to go on their NCAA tournament portfolio.
“We’re playing our best basketball now and it showed,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. “You’ve got to make some free throws, obviously. We did what we needed to do and it’s a good win.”
Fifth-seeded Pittsburgh (25-8) meets top-seeded Virginia, a 64-51 victor against Florida State in the day’s first quarterfinal, in Saturday’s semifinal round.
North Carolina guard Marcus Paige scored 27 points – including 20 in the last 15 minutes – before fouling out with 25 seconds left.
Still, North Carolina guard Nate Britt had a chance to cut the gap to two points but missed a shot in the lane at the 18-second mark. After a Pittsburgh free throw, Britt’s jumper made it 78-75 with 11.4 seconds left.
Zanna fouled out with 1:03 remaining as North Carolina staged a comeback from a 20-point, second-half hole to get within 75-71.
“I really thought we were going to come back and win the game, I really did,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I thought this was going to be one of those great finishes.”
Zanna had 17 rebounds with more than 12 minutes to play. North Carolina had 16 rebounds at the time.
“Just his activity level,” Tar Heels forward James Michael McAdoo said of Zanna. “We didn’t do a good job checking him.”
Dixon said: “He has a knack for it. He has always been good at it. He utilized his quickness.”
Forward Brice Johnson had 16 points and McAdoo supplied 15 points for fourth-seeded North Carolina.
Pittsburgh’s 21-of-41 free-throw shooting nearly cost the Panthers. Robinson’s offense, though, was a bonus.
“A lot of defenses are going to focus on Lamar or Talib and they did a good job finding me,” Robinson said.
Paige ignited a rally with two 3-pointers to help close the deficit to 61-49 with less than seven minutes to play.
The Tar Heels were within 74-65 with two minutes to go.
Earlier in the second half, Paige was ailing with an apparent knee injury that forced him out of the game. He left the court area before returning with 15:46 remaining and the Tar Heels trailing 41-31.
The Panthers used a series of offensive rebounds and Patterson’s 3-point basket to stretch a second-half lead to 48-31 with less than 14 minutes left.
“We were in too much of a rush at the offensive end of the floor,” Williams said. “That’s how it got to be that margin. I thought (Pittsburgh) played extremely well the first 30, 32 minutes of the game. … We had some chances. Kids tried exceptionally hard.”
The Tar Heels (23-9), who won 12 games in a row until falling in last Saturday’s regular-season finale at Duke, lost consecutive games for the first time since early January.
North Carolina reached the ACC tournament final last year.
Pittsburgh led by as much as 27-9 early in the game, but the Tar Heels closed to within 36-26 by halftime.
North Carolina scored on its last seven possessions of the first half to help withstand Pittsburgh’s 54.2-percent (13-for-24) first-half shooting.
With Pittsburgh holding a 20-8 edge, North Carolina took a timeout at the 8:52 mark of the half. The Panthers were up 25-8 before the Tar Heels ended nearly a four-minute scoring drought with a free throw.
North Carolina missed its first seven shots from the field.
Pittsburgh had field goals from four different players for its first eight points, with Patterson the lone starter without a point during that opening stretch. Patterson drained
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