Stiff test awaits Tigers against UNC

Stiff test awaits Tigers against UNC

CLEMSON - Whether you're watching from your seat at Littlejohn Coliseum or from the confines of your own home, don't blink or step away for too long.

WHAT: No. 19 Clemson vs. No. 12 North Carolina
WHERE: Littlejohn Coliseum (10,000) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Wednesday, January 12 (9 PM)
SPREAD: Clemson by 3.5
TV: ESPN

VIDEO PREVIEW: LINK
AUDIO PREVIEW: LINK

You might miss something when No. 12 North Carolina visits No. 19 Clemson Wednesday night.

The high-energy pace employed by both the Tigers and Tar Heels will play out before a national television audience, and a sold-out crowd in Littlejohn.

"What you'll find out when you go against a style like North Carolina's, you'll get them some, and they're going to get you some, because they're an up tempo team" said head coach Oliver Purnell. "They thrive on the quick end and the long pass for the layup."

An announced sell-out prior to the start of this season, tickets for Wednesday night's ACC battle will be tough to come by. What's been the norm for big home games of late, tents of students lined the front lawn days before tipoff.

"It's so exciting. That's something you see on TV at Duke and Carolina," said Tanner Smith, who couldn't help but crack a smile when asked about seeing his fellow students brave the cold weather.

"It just gives the team a certain edge. We want to do well for the guys out there camping in freezing, cold weather."

Of course, anytime North Carolina comes to town it's a big deal, maybe even more so now since the Tar Heels are defending National Champions. Trevor Booker wouldn't classify a Clemson win as an upset.

He's been in regular touch over the phone with senior forward Deon Thompson. The former Team USA teammates at the 2009 World University Games have maintained an ongoing trash-talk session for quite some time.

"I'm just saying to him how bad we're going to beat them (Wednesday)," Booker said. "We talk probably twice a week…he just brings up the past, saying we won't win."


Trevor Booker must deal with two future NBA players in the post in Ed Davis and Deon Thompson tonight against No. 12 North Carolina. (Roy Philpott)
The past can't be ignored. Clemson has dropped its last 10 to North Carolina and no player on the Tigers' roster has ever beaten the Tar Heels.

Last season, North Carolina handed Clemson a 94-70 loss at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill. If the Tigers are to avenge last year's loss--and the nine defeats before that, coach Oliver Purnell said defensive rebounding must improve.

"We need to have that going for us from start to finish against Carolina's big front line," he said. "Their guards are also long. They've got really good size."

Through 16 games, the Tar Heels are outrebounding their opponents by 8.4 boards a game. Four players who are 6-9 or taller average more than 10 minutes a game. At seven blocks, North Carolina is on pace to break the team's record for blocked shots in a season (219 in 1993-94).

Against a Duke team with similar size, Clemson struggled on the offensive end at times. For Purnell, it's a matter of sticking to the game plan and utilizing their speed when the opportunity presents itself against a team that he said has played "one of the toughest schedules in the country".

"You've got to move those guys. You can't just make one pass and drive in among the trees and expect to shoot a high percentage," he said. "They're going to block some. They're going to change some. You've got to move big people around. If you are smaller and quicker, obviously the more you move, the more advantage you have.

"The less you move, the more advantage they have."

The bulk of the Tar Heels work on offense comes in the low-block, shooting nearly 50 percent from the field as a team. Forwards Ed Davis and Deon Thompson average 31 of the team's 84 points per game. Neither has made a shot from behind the 3-point line.

"(Davis) likes that left hand. He's so long. It's hard to block his shot. We'll probably just try to take his left hand away and use his right hand some," Booker said. "Deon is their leading scorer and he can score off either shoulder. I think it will be tougher stopping Deon than it is Ed."

When compared to Clemson, who's hoisted 296 3-point attempts, North Carolina is quite a ways behind, having attempted just 203. The Tigers are hitting 37 percent from behind the arc and the Tar Heels are at 38 percent.

"You're going to see a horse race out there (Wednesday) night," Purnell said.

North Carolina averages 16.3 turnovers per game this season. Clemson's high pressure style could push that number closer to 20. Look for that to be the key determining whether Clemson ends the 10-game skid.

The Tar Heels are 0-2 on the road, with a recent loss at College of Charleston, a team Clemson handled relatively painlessly at home. The other road loss was to Kentucky, the No. 4 team in the country.

"Anytime you're on the road, or you're at home. Home court means something in college basketball," Purnell said. "There is that potential (for the crowd to play a big factor)."

PREDICTION: Clemson 85 North Carolina 80

PROBABLE STARTERS
No. 19 Clemson (13-3)
G #2 Demontez Stitt (6-2,175) - 10.9 PPG, 3.8 APG
G #5 Tanner Smith (6-5, 220) - 10.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG
C #45 Jerai Grant (6-8,220) - 6.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG
F #15 David Potter (6-6,205) - 7.3 PPG, 3 RPG
F #35 Trevor Booker (6-7,240) - 14.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG

PROBABLE STARTERS
No. 12 North Carolina (12-4)
G #11 Larry Drew II (6-2, 180) - 8.8 PPG, 6.3 APG
G #5 Dexter Strickland (6-5, 180) - 5.4 PPG, 2.5 APG
C #32 Ed Davis (6-10,225) - 15.5 PPG, 10.3 RPG
F #21 Deon Thompson (6-9,245) - 15.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG
F #13 Will Graves (6-6,240) - 8.1 PPG, 4 RPG

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