|by David Hood|
The Tigers (13-13, 5-9 ACC) have held second-half leads at home this season to Miami (current AP No. 5), Arizona (No. 11) and N.C. State, only to see those leads and the chances for a win drain away in the final moments of each contest.
Clemson and UNC (19-8, 9-5) tipoff tonight at 7:02 p.m., and the Tigers will have their hands full against a Tar Heel squad that has won three straight games, all by double digits.
Williams’ teams have been successful in the past with a traditional lineup of big guys who can score and rebound down low, smaller guys who can shoot and drive on the perimeter, and a point guard who can drive to the basket and tie the whole package together.
However, a frustrated Williams realized a few weeks ago that he doesn’t have the pieces in place to be successful with that kind of lineup this season, and moved to a smaller lineup that includes a trio of scorers in guard P.J. Hairston (14.1 ppg in ACC play) and forwards Reggie Bullock (14.9) and James Michael McAdoo (14.7).
Rounding out the starting five are freshman Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland, a fifth-year senior.
I asked Clemson head coach Brad Brownell Tuesday if the Heels had just one player that he felt needed to be stopped, and he said no.
“Not really, because Paige and Strickland can bring it up the court with speed, and that means you have two guys you have to stop in transition,” Brownell said. “Bullock and Hairston are good 3-point shooters, and McAdoo is good on the inside and driving. He is an athletic power forward-type who plays well at 15-to-18 feet and plays well away from the basket.”
Brownell said the smaller lineup allows the Tar Heels to open up the defense for open 3-point looks.
"The smaller lineup for them has been really good. It allows them to stretch the court," Brownell said. “The 3-point shooting is different than other North Carolina teams because they they shoot and make a lot of three’s. The other thing the smaller lineup does is it allows two guys — Strickland and Paige — it allows them to have two point guards on the floor and you have great pace, so the ball is coming at you unbelievably fast. They come at you with unbelievable speed and they are incredibly talented. They’re as good as anybody I’ve seen at finishing in transition."
Freshman guard Jordan Roper said games like the one Thursday night are one of the reasons he chose Clemson.
"That was a main factor (in coming to Clemson), playing against some of the best competition," Roper said. “But another thing was trying to make Clemson one of the best school. I think we have great talent and can play with anybody."
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org