By Justin Mathis
CLEMSON, S.C. – After a tough road loss to Virginia, followed by a nail-biting win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta this past Sunday, the Tigers faced another quick turnaround as they collided with North Carolina on Tuesday, the second meeting in the past three weeks between the two clubs.
A hot start from the arc provided a big spark for 20th-ranked Clemson, which allowed them to emerge with an 82-78 victory over 19th-ranked North Carolina, the Tigers’ first win against UNC in the past 11 attempts.
Prior to Tuesday night, Clemson’s last win over UNC occurred on January 13th, 2010, where UNC committed 26 turnovers and lost to Clemson 83-64 at Littlejohn Coliseum.
After trailing by 16 points at the break, UNC fought all the way back and tied the game at 74 on a Joel Berry jumper from the key with 2:05 remaining. On the ensuing trip down the floor for Clemson, Elijah Thomas set a screen near the left elbow, which freed up teammate Marcquise Reed to knock down a wide open three with 1:42 to go, putting the Tigers back in front 77-74.
“Terrific win for our guys,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “I thought we played a tremendous first half, especially defensively. (North Carolina) is hard to guard. We knew in the second half that they were going to loosen up a little bit and be in attack mode and be tougher to guard them. I thought we came out with really good confidence, shot it great. Our team feels good about the way we’re playing.”
In the first half, North Carolina jumped out to a 4-0 lead on layups from Luke Maye and Berry, respectively. That’s when things became a bit tougher for UNC.
Forward Theo Pinson fell down on the court with 18:28 left in the opening half after being fouled by David Skara during a battle for a rebound. Pinson left the game and didn’t not return, due to what was announced as a left shoulder strain.
After falling behind early, Clemson uncorked a 21-8 run, scoring all of their points from beyond the arc. Entering the game, North Carolina had surrendered 10.2 made three-pointers per game to their opponents. In their previous game, a 95-91 overtime loss at NC State, the Tar Heels allowed the Wolfpack to knock down 15 of 30 tries from distance.
“I’ve got no answers,” Williams lamented in regards to the Tar Heels’ perimeter defense. “I’ve never reemphasized something as much in my entire life. You’ve got to congratulate (Clemson)… Gabe (DeVoe) really got them off to a great start. He made three (3-pointers) in probably the first seven or eight minutes. I think (Reed) made the biggest play (of the game) – we got it tied, then somebody got lost, somebody ran into a screen, and he makes a three in front of their bench. Last year, we were very fortunate here. They missed a free throw with five seconds to play, then we missed a layup, but were lucky enough to win in overtime.”
A big catalyst, especially in the second half, for UNC was guard Cam Johnson, who posted a game-high 32 points. Johnson connected on six of his 10 tries from distance and also made all six free throws attempts. Joel Berry II also made some key contributions, including 19 points in the second half, and finished with 27 points. Luke Maye, UNC’s leading scorer, was held to a season-low four points.
UNC was also without freshman point guard Jalek Felton, who was suspended indefinitely Tuesday morning by the university. No specifics were provided regarding the reason behind Felton’s suspension due to federal privacy laws.
Marcquise Reed led the way for Clemson with 20 points. Gabe DeVoe, a senior out of Shelby High School in North Carolina, scored 15 of his 17 points from the arc. Shelton Mitchell, a redshirt junior from Waxhaw, North Carolina, also finished in double figures with 14 points. Elijah Thomas had 11 points and tied a career high with six blocks.
Overall, Clemson was 24 for 61 from field, but hit 15 of their 30 three point attempts. UNC made 28 of their 62 field goal attempts, which included a 10 for 24 clip from three point land. Clemson also outscored UNC on second chance points 22-10.
Clemson (18-4, 7-3 ACC) will have a couple of days off before traveling to take on Wake Forest at 2 PM on Saturday, February 3rd, while North Carolina (16-7, 5-5 ACC) will play host to Pittsburgh on Saturday at 8 PM.