For the first ten minutes of Clemson’s 65-45 blowout loss to North Carolina, the Tigers looked as if they might be capable of playing with the Tar Heels. Clemson found themselves locked in a 11-11 tie with just under ten minutes remaining in the first half after successfully slowing the game down to a snail’s pace. North Carolina’s players and the Dean Smith Center crowd seemed lethargic, perhaps due to the sheer ugliness of the first quarter of the game and the fact that the Clemson strategy seemed to be working.
Of course, this all changed when the Tigers became inexplicably antsy and began launching quick shots. In effect, it was like waving the green flag at the Daytona 500.
North Carolina closed the half with a high-paced frenzy, outscoring the Tigers 22-9 and taking a 33-20 lead into the locker room.
“The reason why we kind of lost our composure was because we wanted them to play defense a lot longer than they did. We took some hurried shots and they got us out of our rhythm,” said Clemson center Adam Allenspach.
Sophomore guard Will Solomon was perhaps the main culprit in the Tigers sudden abandonment of their pre-game strategy. Solomon finished the night connecting on only 5-19 shots, with a number of misses leading to Tar Heel fast breaks.
“Our game plan was to slow the ball down and work some clock. We took a few early shots, myself included, and it led to easy baskets for them,” said Solomon.
“I think Will really wanted to get on track and I think had he hit a couple of those shots early he may well have. They changed people up on him and they gave him some different looks. This is part of the growing process with Bains, Scott and Solomon- freshman, freshman, sophomore- they’re in for a new experience every game and we better make sure we grow with each experience whether they are particularly good or not,” head coach Larry Shyatt said.
Perhaps the one bright spot for Clemson was again the play of freshman forward Ray Henderson. In only 22 minutes, Henderson scored six points and led the team in rebounding with nine, including four on the offensive glass. Henderson seem unfazed with mixing it up among some of the ACC’s biggest name players, including 7-0 Tar Heel center Brendan Haywood.
“My confidence is always sky high. He isn’t anything but another name to me and he’s got to show me something when I’m playing,” Henderson said.
Shyatt was pleased with the play of Henderson while at the same time lamenting over the 6-9 forward/center’s numerous health problems. Henderson has been sidelined with torn cartilage in his right knee and by a recent chest injury, both of which have reduced his practice and game time.
“I’ve been impressed with him all year but he just hasn’t been able to practice and that’s a frustrating point. Any time he’s been able to play two, six, 11 minutes in a ball game I’ve been impressed. I just feel bad for him because he hasn’t been able to get better and he hasn’t been able to get in condition without practice time,” Shyatt said.
Overall, injuries have consistently hampered the Tigers’ ability to practice effectively, according to Shyatt. Andrius Jurkunas, Arturas Javtokas, Edward Scott, Chucky Gilmore, and Henderson have been among the Tigers’ walking wounded through the first two months of the season.
“My biggest frustration is that I haven’t been able to watch us grow on the practice floor. We haven’t had but three or four practice days out of 67 where we’ve had more than seven on the floor. We’re practicing against walk-ons and former players and that’s just not effective,” said Shyatt.
“Yes, I’d like results in the games but I’m sort of old fashioned: we’re probably not going to show those results in the games until we get better on the practice floor.”