Whether it was the end of a 10-game skid against the Tar Heels, beating the defending National Champion or a combination of the two, Clemson students rushed the court in celebration of the Tigers’ 83-64 Wednesday night win at Littlejohn.
The win nearly matched the biggest margin of victory Clemson has had over North Carolina. The 1976-77 Tigers beat the Tar Heels 93-73.
With Wednesday night’s win, Clemson improves to 14-3 overall (2-1 in ACC) while North Carolina falls to 12-5 (1-1 in ACC).
“We felt like we were the quicker, faster team,” said head coach Oliver Purnell, who hadn’t beaten North Carolina since his first season at Clemson.
“The faster the game went the better.”
North Carolina committed 26 turnovers, almost 10 more than its season average. Clemson took advantage of the wreck less control of the ball, scoring 33 points off of those turnovers.
“We thought we could turn them over because they struggled with that, obviously. That’s what we do. That’s who we are. That’s Clemson basketball,” Purnell said. “When we’re playing well, our pressure defense is good.”
About 10 minutes into the game, the Tigers held a commanding 35-12 lead, thanks to a Tanner Smith 3-pointer.
Clemson shot 47 percent (7-of-15) from behind the 3-point line in the first half before going 0-11 in the second. Purnell referred to the hot start and the cold ending as “fools gold."
“I thought we did fall in love with it a little bit. That’s happened to us some this year,” he said. “You stay with it and you go cold--all of a sudden you’re not doing the things you need to do to go inside.
“I thought we got back to it with penetration and getting the ball to Book.”
Trevor Booker and Demontez Stitt led the way for the Tigers on the offensive end, scoring 21 and 20 points, respectively, making it the first-time this season two players have scored at least 20 points.
Stitt, who’s hails from just outside of Charlotte, has been waiting for a win over his childhood favorite Tar Heels since he came to Clemson.
“I got a headache from yelling,” Stitt said. “This is what we live for--this is what we play for.”
At one point, the orange and purple clad faithful pushed the decibel level in Littlejohn as high as 112.
Before the game, Stitt was confident that he’d turn in an effort like he did Wednesday night.
“I felt like their guards couldn’t take me,” he said.
But he doesn’t take all of the credit for Clemson’s second-straight ACC win.
“We played as a team tonight. Up at Duke, we didn’t play as a team. Everybody was trying to do their own thing. Here from the start, the crowd was behind us and we played with energy,” Stitt said.
Purnell complimented Jerai Grant for his defensive effort on Deon Thompson, who finished with just four points on 2-of-4 shooting from the field.
“He’s certainly one of the best players in our league. He got four points, or whatever he got. That’s big right there,” Purnell said.
Booker matched up on Ed Davis the majority of the night, holding his fellow preseason All-ACC selection to four points. Davis shot 2-of-11 from the field.
The veteran Booker explained why he thought Davis struggled throughout the contest.
“He’s a great player, but he’s a still raw on the offensive side of the ball,” Booker said. “He’s a little thin. I’m more aggressive. I think that was the key to holding him to four points.”
Clemson travels back to Tobacco Road to take on N.C. State on Saturday at noon before heading to Atlanta for a mid-week clash against Georgia Tech.
“It’s so early, you don’t see me smiling a lot,” Purnell said. “I’m looking down the road here to see what’s coming.”