Hicks steps up in UNC's upset of No. 25 Pitt
Isaiah Hicks built up some trust points. His Tar Heels’ teammates scored on the urgency meter.
North Carolina upset No. 25-ranked Pittsburgh 75-71 Saturday afternoon in the Smith Center. Hicks, in a reserve role behind sophomore J.P. Tokoto, provided the defense assistant coach Steve Robinson wanted to see on national player of the year candidate Lamar Patterson.
With James Michael McAdoo flooding the Panthers with 24 points and 12 rebounds and Marcus Paige tossing in 18 points in a combined 75 minutes, the Heels won their sixth straight. But a disjointed second half, when the hosts never trailed but nearly squandered all of a 61-49 lead, had its moments of anxiety.
Ultimately, the Tar Heels won with defense.
“James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige with 37 and 38 minutes,” said head coach Roy Williams, “I hate that. But my gosh. It’s a good win over a very good basketball team.”
Hicks said his 12 minutes were a welcoming production. But that meant, when in, he matched up with Patterson.
“Coach Rob said he was Mr. Pitt,” Hicks said. “You take that as a challenge. I tried to limit him to what he can do.”
Patterson was stymied by foul trouble, Tokoto, Hicks and senior Leslie McDonald, finishing with 16 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
“It helped he got in foul trouble,” Williams said. “When J.P. was out, Isaiah did a good job on him. And Leslie had him a lot in the second half. He’s one of the most complete basketball players in the country.”
Hicks had four points, two blocks and two rebounds in his longest stint since the first ACC game against Wake Forest (11 minutes). He also had an emphatic first-half dunk that brought the crowd of 20,341 to roaring approval.
Brice Johnson added 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks for the Tar Heels (17-7, 7-4 ACC). Pitt (20-6, 8-5 ACC) got 13 points off the bench from Jamel Artis and 10 points from James Robinson.
Up 68-65 with less than three minutes to go, North Carolina got defensive stops by Johnson twice on blocks at the rim, Johnson defending a Robinson drive into the lane, and Donald fighting through a screen on the perimeter and defending a drive by Patterson.
Johnson and Jackson Simmons combined to defend a shot by Talib Zanna at the rim with 2.8 seconds left, Pitt’s last hope to forge overtime.
Johnson made three free throws and Paige two in the final minute.
“That’s what we do in practices,” Hicks said of the team’s late defensive stops. “We do drills, coaches tell us we must have stops. And we transitioned our practices into the game.”
“It’s a sense of urgency,” Tokoto said. “If Brice is not ready to block that shot, it’s a different game.”
Williams said defense, just like any part of the team, is a work in progress.
“I think we’re getting better,” Williams said of the defense. “We work very hard every day. Brice’s blocked shots were big for us.
“It’s all about the team defense.”
And Hicks, like his teammates, was glad to throw in a solid contribution.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.