BOX SCORE: North Carolina 64 Clemson 62
The loss dropped the Tigers to 17-8 (6-5 ACC) and improved the Tar Heels to 18-6 (8-2 ACC).
“It was a missed opportunity, and I told our guys that,” said Clemson head coach Brad Brownell. “We should be disappointed. We’ve played pretty well here, recently. I can’t fault our guys’ effort. When you look at the way the stats of the game were, we played every bit as hard as anybody could have played against them.”
Much like this season’s first meeting, which North Carolina won 75-65, John Henson and Tyler Zeller gave Jerai Grant fits in the low-post. Henson blocked Grant’s first field goal attempt, and the senior from Bowie, Md. never seemed to recover.
He finished with one rebound and no points on 0-of-3 shooting from the field.
“I don’t really know what happened with Jerai,” Brownell said. “He didn’t feel comfortable. He didn’t look comfortable. He looked out of sorts, a little bit. I thought he was too unselfish. Then, later, he caught the ball in pretty good positions, and he was feeding the ball out. Sometimes, that’s fine, because there were guys that were open.
“Sometimes, he’s got to take it and go make a play. I think this gets back to a little bit of the fact that Jerai Grant’s never been the primetime player on any team he’s ever played on…there’s a learning experience that comes with being in a big game and learning to go take it to people.”
North Carolina freshman forward Harrison Barnes, who was named a preseason All-American, continues to catch his stride. Barnes scored a game-high 20 points, and with 3:01 left in the game, he threw down a ferocious dunk on Milton Jennings, who scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
The jam gave North Carolina a 53-51 advantage—the 10th and final lead change of the contest.
“It didn’t make a difference at all. It’s a play,” Jennings said. “I’ve seen it too many times, and it happened to me a few times. It didn’t bother me at all. I jumped up, went right down the court. I ended up hitting a three. It’s just college basketball. It’s going to happen.”
Both teams started sluggishly in the first half. Clemson hit just 9-of-33 (27 percent) from the field in the opening period.
“Offensively, in the first half, I thought we just weren’t in sync,” Brownell said. “We tried too hard, we were too impatient, and we just had a hard time relaxing, really just settling down. We did a little bit better for a while there in the second half. Then, we had another cold stretch at a bad time, late in the game. They pulled away and we just couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
Clemson finished 21-of-61 (34 percent) from the field.
North Carolina shot 38 percent from the field and 14 percent from behind the 3-point line (2-of-14).
Tar Heel coach Roy Williams credited the Tigers’ work on the defensive end as one of the reasons for his team’s offensive woes.
“Clemson is one of the best defensive clubs in our league,” Williams said. “Some of it, for us, is our immaturity or inexperience. Give Clemson’s defense credit. They hold people down. You don’t score a lot against Clemson, and there’s a reason.”