CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- It took time for No. 8 North Carolina to click Wednesday night, but the reward was significant.
The Tar Heels own a stranglehold on first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference after pulling away for a 74-63 victory against No. 7 Louisville at the Smith Center.
"I think we did a really good job of making plays when we needed to make them," said guard Justin Jackson, who scored 21 points. "There were some things we did that really showed we wanted to win."
The Tar Heels (24-5, 12-3 ACC) hold a two-game lead on Louisville, Florida State, Notre Dame and Duke, which lost Wednesday at Syracuse, with three games remaining.
North Carolina, which won its third game in a row, made only four of its first 20 shots from the field.
"Once we settled down and shot like we can, you saw what happened," guard Theo Pinson said.
Joel Berry poured in 15 points, Kennedy Meeks added 14 points and Pinson had 13 for North Carolina. Jackson reached the 20-point mark for the 15th game this season.
Donovan Mitchell's 21 points and Quentin Snider's nine points paced Louisville (22-6, 10-5), which entered the game averaging 77.8 points. Adel Deng was shut out in the second half after scoring eight points before the break.
"They did a lot of good things down the stretch and we didn't," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "We played good enough to stay in the game. We didn't play good enough to win."
The Cardinals lost by a double-digit margin for the second time this season.
The Tar Heels struggled on offense at times, too. North Carolina ended a stretch of about six minutes with only one field goal on Pinson's 3-pointer for a 51-43 lead, causing a Louisville timeout at the 11:27 mark.
"The second half, for the most part (I liked the shot selection)," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
After overcoming a seven-point hole to pull even at 40, the Cardinals went almost seven minutes with scoring only three points as North Carolina built a 53-43 edge.
Louisville shot 4 for 13 from the free-throw line.
"We took ourselves out of the game with our foul shooting," Pitino said. "I just feel there's no excuse for poor foul shooting."
Pitino also bemoaned North Carolina's 46-33 rebounding advantage. That included 16 offensive rebounds for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina led 33-30 at halftime, with Louisville trailing at the half for the third time in its last four games.
The Cardinals committed nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes after only three giveaways in Saturday's victory against Virginia Tech. Louisville was 0 for 6 on first-half 3s.
There was a torrid first-half pace as both teams played with urgency from the get-go.
North Carolina made only four of its first 20 shots from the field. The Tar Heels made their next three attempts to surge into a 17-14 lead.
NOTES: North Carolina won three of five meetings since Louisville joined the ACC. ... North Carolina is 11-2 under coach Roy Williams in Smith Center games between two Top 10 teams. ... North Carolina F Isaiah Hicks rode a stationary bike behind the end of the bench during several stretches when he wasn't in the game. ... Seldom-used North Carolina reserve G Stilman White hit a first-half shot, marking his first field goal in any of the nine ACC games in which he has played this season. ... North Carolina plays its next two games on the road, visiting Pittsburgh on Saturday and Virginia on Monday. ... Louisville is home Sunday against Syracuse, meeting the Orange for the second time in less than a two-week span.