Clemson finds the finish it needs in gritty win over Tar Heels
Clemson gritted out the win in Chapel Hill.

Clemson finds the finish it needs in gritty win over Tar Heels

by - Senior Writer -

Clemson hasn’t had a problem starting games with energy, but finishing has been an issue. Until Tuesday night, when the Tigers jumped out to an early lead, weathered the Tar Heel storm, and finished the game with authority.

Clemson traveled to Chapel Hill and defeated No. 3 North Carolina 80-76 Tuesday, just the second win all-time for the Tigers on the Tar Heels’ home court. Heading into the game, the Tigers were also 0-37 when playing a ranked North Carolina team on its home court.

Clemson entered the contest on the heels of a heartbreaking home loss to Virginia, while North Carolina was still celebrating a dominant win over arch-rival Duke last weekend. Clemson’s pain turned into it’s gain.

“I’m really happy for these guys. I’ve said a couple of times that I think we’re playing better than our ACC record, but we are what our record says we are, so we’ve got to finish some games,” head coach Brad Browell said. “Our guys have really hung in there. I think they’ve battled and stayed pretty positive. They’re working hard in practice every day. We just haven’t had many good results.”

Clemson jumped out to a 15-2 lead, forcing UNC head coach Hubert Davis to call an early timeout.

“The start to the game was huge. Obviously, it gave our guys a big shot in the arm and some confidence, and then we weathered the storm,” Brownell said. “This place was loud. I think we shocked them early. For the last 30 minutes, it got loud in here, and I thought our guys handled that very well. They made some big plays down the stretch. It’s just a big win for us.”

Davis said the Tigers deserved the win and that his team lacked the energy needed to beat a determined Clemson team.

“I didn't particularly enjoy or like our practices leading up to the game tonight. It's the thing that I told them in the huddle the first time out in the beginning of the game that, 'It's just not about Xs and Os,'” Davis said. “There's nothing from a basketball standpoint we can talk about until the energy and the effort and enthusiasm rises. And if that would rise and things would change, then we can start talking about basketball.’ And so, in order to win a game like this, we just didn't play well enough. You really have to complement Clemson and the way that they played. They're a really good basketball team and extremely well coached, and they were deserving of winning tonight.”

Clemson’s offense has had in-game lulls and scoring droughts that have proven costly in the losses, but the Tigers avoided that Tuesday. Brownell said his message to his team was simple.

“Just play with confidence. Move the ball and move ourselves. We got some stops. I thought we were able to get out a little bit,” Brownell said. “I told them, ‘We don’t want to run on made baskets every time, but occasionally we’re going to push it.’ We want to get down the floor. We want to attack, we want to move the ball, look inside. We knew they (North Carolina) were going to do a couple of things in their pick-and-roll that we kind of exploited. We knew if our guards attacked downhill, we could get a throwback 3 to some of our bigs.

“I told PJ Hall, ‘Knock these in, man. These are the same ones you’ve been getting, but you’re ready.’ He got off to a good start. (Carolina) ended up changing their coverage probably around halftime or late in the first half. We had to make some adjustments again. I thought our guys hung in there. I’m proud of the way we rebounded the ball. We only had five turnovers. We did some unbelievable things, rebounding 43 (shots), 11 offensive boards, and then to only have 14 assists and five turnovers in a game like this, with this pressure, is pretty good play.”

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot said the Tar Heels were off from the start, with several players late to the court.

“We weren’t as loud as we usually are, it kind of felt flat. It’s something we all noticed and tried to get ourselves going. But it’s too late once you started having to do that,” Bacot said. “Some players weren’t on time for warmups. Three or four of us just didn’t get out there on time, and that’s stuff we usually want to do.”

While North Carolina struggled to find its footing, the Tigers gained 21 points and six boards from Joseph Girard III.

“Huge. We need that because Ian (Schieffelin) and PJ can only do so much. They’ve been battling pretty well and had 11 and nine rebounds, but we’ve got to get those guards swooping down and grabbing a few,” Brownell said. “That was really important for us. It was hard to stop those guys. I thought we changed defenses enough to at least slow the game down a little, especially in that first half. This was a hard-fought one down the stretch.”

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