With a 20-point lead late in the second half, Pitt was preparing to put its John Hancock on North Carolina.

Before the ink could dry on Pitt's first signature win of the season, the Tar Heels used a frantic full-court press and Marcus Paige's hot hand to put the Panthers in a familiar position.

This time, despite spotty free-throw shooting, Pitt held onto a single-digit lead in the final seconds for an 80-75 victory over the No. 15 Tar Heels on Friday in an ACC Tournament quarterfinal before a pro-Carolina crowd of 21,533 at Greensboro Coliseum.

“It was a great feeling, being able to smile at the billion baby-blue shirts in the stands and ‘cheesing' at all of our Pitt fans and cheerleaders and band who made the trip down here,” junior guard Cameron Wright said. “I'm just glad we were able to pull it off.”

The Panthers had been 0-6 against top 25 teams. Pitt was 1-8 all-time against North Carolina, including a 75-71 loss Feb. 15 in Chapel Hill, and hadn't beaten the Tar Heels since a 26-20 victory in the NCAA Eastern Regional on March 21, 1941, in Madison, Wis.

“They beat us, so it felt that even better — that we got a ‘W' against a team that beat us in the regular season,” senior Lamar Patterson said. “Everyone can talk about signature wins or whatever, but we won a lot of games this season and you can't take that from no one.

“Right now, we're at our best.”

Pitt (25-8) will play top-seeded Virginia (26-6), which beat No. 9 Florida State, 64-51, in a semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Cavaliers beat the Panthers, 48-45, on Malcolm Brogdon's 3-pointer at the buzzer Feb. 2 at Petersen Events Center. It was one of Pitt's seven losses by single digits, one of two where it lost on a last-second shot.

“We haven't been perfect, but it's how you handle it,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We're built to respond.”

The Panthers improved to 21-0 in games when they have a higher shooting percentage than their opponent, making 27 of 52 shots from the field (51.9 percent) to Carolina's 25 of 61 (41 percent).

James Robinson scored 12 of his career-high 19 points in the first half, and Talib Zanna put on a performance worthy of mention in the same breath as Panthers greats DeJuan Blair and Jerome Lane.

Zanna, a 6-foot-9 senior center, scored 19 points and grabbed a career-high 21 boards, two shy of the tourney record set by N.C. State's John Richter in 1959, and his 10 offensive rebounds tied a record set by Virginia's Bryant Stith in 1992.

Josh Newkirk gave Pitt a 20-point lead with baseline drive for a three-point play at 7:22, but Carolina came roaring back with its full-court press about the same time that Paige, an All-ACC first-team pick, rediscovered his stroke.

“What we were doing wasn't working very well. We wanted to try something else,” Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “At that point, I'm dumb enough to still think we had a chance to win the game.”