CLEMSON - For a long time many in the near-capacity crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum Wednesday night wondered when the No. 6 team in the country was going to show up.
Perhaps they shouldn't have asked.
North Carolina scored the first 11 points of the second half, part of a 24-8 run over the first 8:35, blowing open a close game and rolling to a 77-58 victory at Clemson. The loss was Clemson's (10-7, 1-4 ACC) second straight, and its second of the season at Littlejohn.
"We're struggling offensively right now. You can't go the first seven or eight minutes of each half without scoring against the fifth or sixth best team in the country and expect to win," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. "We turned it over too many times, and also had trouble getting back on our transition defense. Those things pretty much combined to cost us the game."
After blowing an 11-point first half lead and going in tied at the break, the Tar Heels (15-2, 4-1) came out of the locker room intent on establishing their presence in the paint.
They did so with a relentless attack on the offensive boards. All 11 points in the opening moments of the second half came either in the lane or at the free throw line, foul shots resulting from UNC aggressively attacking the basket.
Junior center Sean May scored six of the 11 points during the run, and later added a follow jam of a Rashaad McCants miss to put UNC up 40-29 at the 14:40 mark.
After that the Tar Heels kicked the running game into high gear, turning breakdowns in Clemson's fullcourt pressure into layups. North Carolina outscored the Tigers 14-0 in fast break points and 42-28 in the paint.
"We competed much better in the second half," UNC head coach Roy Williams said. "I'm very happy with the win, but I'm not happy with the way we played in the first half. The basketball gods owed us one. Last year they shoot 11-of-13 from the 3-point line and beat us. If they hit any shots at all tonight, we're down 15 at the half."
Clemson shot just 33 percent (20-of-60) for the game, including a poor 26 percent (5-of-19) from behind the 3-point arc.
The one bright spot from the perimeter was freshman Cheyenne Moore's 4-of-7 night from long distance, which helped him finish with 14 points. Senior center Sharrod Ford also scored 14 for Clemson.
McCants topped the Tar Heels with 23, one of five North Carolina players to finish in double figures.
Marvin Williams had 12 points off the bench, followed by May and Raymond Felton with 11 each and Jawad Williams with 10.
The teams went into the halftime break tied at 27-27, a considerable feat taking Clemson's early offensive futility into account. The Tigers opened the game 1-for-10 from the field, trailed 8-0 at the first media timeout and didn't record their second basket until over nine minutes had elapsed in the half.
But North Carolina also slowed considerably after the quick start, and finished the first half with 16 turnovers to Clemson's 13.
The Tar Heels' largest lead in the half was 19-8 with just over 8:00 left, but then Clemson's offense sputtered to life.
The Tigers scored nine straight points to draw within 19-17, the final three coming on Moore's off-balance 3-pointer from the corner in front of the North Carolina bench. Moments later, Moore gave Clemson it's first lead, 22-21, with 1:51 left in the half.
Clemson extended the lead to 27-24 and appeared ready to take the advantage into the locker room, but after McCants hit a free throw to cut the lead to 27-25, May rebounded McCants' miss on the second charity toss and scored to tie the game in the final seconds.
The Tigers continue ACC play Saturday at Virginia (7:30 p.m.)
NORTH CAROLINA (15-2) - Manuel 3-3 1-2 7, J.Williams 4-9 0-0 10, May 3-6 5-9 11, Felton 5-12 0-0 11, McCants 9-18 2-4 23, Scott 0-1 0-0 0, Terry 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 0-0 0-1 0, M.Williams 3-5 6-6 12, Noel 1-1 1-1 3, Hooker 0-0 0-0 0, Sanders 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-55 15-23 77.
CLEMSON (10-7) - Babalola 0-7 4-4 4, Moore 5-10 0-0 14, Ford 6-12 2-4 14, Robinson 1-11 1-2 3, Hammonds 2-6 3-5 7, Waiters 0-0 0-0 0, Hamilton 1-5 2-4 4, Hudson 2-2 0-0 5, Morris 0-1 0-0 0, Perry 1-1 0-0 2, Akingbala 0-3 0-0 0, Mays 2-2 1-2 5. Totals 20-60 13-21 58.
Halftime — Tied 27-27.
3-Point Goals — North Carolina 6-15 (McCants 3-7, J.Williams 2-2, Felton 1-5, M.Williams 0-1); Clemson 5-19 (Moore 4-7, Hudson 1-1, Babalola 0-2,
Hammonds 0-3, Robinson 0-6).
Fouled Out — None.
Rebounds — North Carolina 39 (Felton 10); Clemson 31 (Ford 9).
Assists — North Carolina 16 (McCants 6); Clemson 12 (Hamilton, Robinson 3).
Total Fouls — North Carolina 19; Clemson 20.
Technicals — McCants