Justin Jackson was a liability last season whenever he decided to hoist a shot from 3-point range.
The junior forward now rates as a huge asset for North Carolina when he squares up for the long-range blast.
Jackson continued his improved marksmanship on Saturday when he scored 23 points and made five 3-point baskets to help the No. 8 Tar Heels post an 85-67 victory over host Pittsburgh to clinch at least a tie for the ACC regular-season title.
Jackson shot just 29.2 percent behind the arc last season before putting a major emphasis into improving his wayward shot. He is shooting 39.9 percent from long range this season and ranks second in the ACC with 83 3-pointers.
The hardest part of the equation for Jackson is explaining the improvement.
"Maybe I can get it off a little quicker. I'm not sure what," Jackson said. "Honestly, I didn't change anything with my shot.
"Everybody's asking, 'What did you to do change your shot? What did you do?' I didn't do anything but just get reps. I tried to get it up a little bit more but other than there is no change in my shot."
The stellar performance marked the fifth time this season that Jackson made five or more 3-pointers in a game. The latest display helped North Carolina (25-5, 13-3) win for the fourth straight game and sixth of the last seven.
Junior guard Joel Berry II connected on four 3-pointers while scoring 19 points for the Tar Heels. Senior center Kennedy Meeks contributed 18 points (9-of-11 shooting) and 10 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the season for North Carolina, which looks to clinch the outright regular-season title on Monday against Virginia.
"It's great because at the end of the day you still get some hardware if you end up tying," Berry said of clinching a share. "But we want to sit up there alone so we're going to keep on pushing and doing what we have to do."
Senior forward Michael Young and senior guard Jamel Artis scored 17 points apiece for the Panthers (15-14, 4-12). Senior guard Chris Jones added 10 points for Pittsburgh, which was just 7 of 24 from 3-point range.
The Tar Heels owned a 48-28 rebounding edge, including a season-high 24 offensive boards. North Carolina committed just eight turnovers.
"You try to keep their size from having much of an impact on you and you open up the perimeter and (Jackson) hurts you," Panthers coach Kevin Stallings said. "You go man to try to take him away and they pound you inside. We didn't have an answer at either spot."
North Carolina has won its past four games by an average of 19 points and has allowed an average of 57 points in its last three games. However, coach Roy Williams feels the defense isn't where it should be in late February.
"We've sure emphasized it enough in practice," Williams said. "I do think we're getting a little better but I still want to make big-time strides. We really need to make big-time strides defensively. I really think we have a long way to go there."
The Panthers trailed 47-39 after a 3-pointer by Jones with 15:57 left before the Tar Heels began pulling away.
Jackson started a 12-2 surge with a 3-pointer. Berry then took over and scored seven points during the run as North Carolina opened up a 59-41 advantage with 12:04 to play.
Pittsburgh make a mini-charge and trailed 62-50 after Young's three-point play with 9:50 left. The Tar Heels scored the next five points with Meeks' hoop making it 67-50 with 8:24 to go.
North Carolina's lead reached 20 when Jackson drained a 3-pointer to make it 81-61 with 4:08 remaining.
"Late in the game where he came down and Joel found him and he stepped right into this shot, I felt like that one was going in," Williams said of Jackson. "And I like that."
The North Carolina lead topped out at 22 points on what was a highly disappointing day for the Panthers.
"We had chances at the beginning of the second half when we could've made a run," said Jones, "but we just, for whatever reason, couldn't hold it together."
Jackson scored 13 first-half points to help North Carolina possess a 40-28 halftime lead.
Young and Artis drained consecutive 3-pointers to give Pitt a 17-11 lead with 12:44 left in the first half before the Panthers went more than 7 1/2 minutes without a field goal.
Berry knocked down two 3-pointers during an 8-0 burst that gave the Tar Heels a 19-17 lead. Meeks scored from the inside to make it a five-point margin with 8:06 left in the half.
The Panthers pulled within 24-23 when a basket by Jones halted the field-goal drought with five minutes left. Young's 3-pointer got Pitt back with two with 3:13 remaining before North Carolina finished the half on a flurry.
Jackson nailed two 3-pointers during the half-ending 10-0 push and Meeks started the second half with a basket to push the Tar Heels' lead to 14.
-- The 25-win season is the 10th during Roy Williams' coaching tenure at North Carolina and the 35th in school history.
-- Panthers senior F Michael Young has recorded 15 20-point outings this season and fell three short of that mark on Saturday.
-- Tar Heels senior C Kennedy Meeks collected 10 rebounds to raise his career total to 949 to move into ninth place in school history, passing Eric Montross (941 from 1990-94).
-- Pittsburgh senior G Jamel Artis moved into 12th place in school history with 1,651 career points, surpassing Carl Krauser (1,642 from 2002-06).