ATLANTA — For a long while Friday afternoon, Clemson gave its fans reason to
believe another upset of mighty North Carolina was a very real possibility.
But in the end the Tar Heels had too many weapons, and each one seemed to
fire at precisely the right time.
Jason Capel's 23 points led four Tar Heels in double figures, as UNC (24-5)
pulled away from Clemson over the game's final nine minutes for a 99-81
victory in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament at
the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The win allows the Tar Heels to move into Saturday's semifinals, where they will
face either Virgina or Georgia Tech at 1:30 p.m.
"We're fortunate to be advancing," said North Carolina coach Matt Doherty.
"Clemson is not an easy team to play, especially when they have a great
player like Will Solomon...Our defense tightened up and held them to 38
percent (shooting) in the second half, and at the same time we shot the ball
pretty well and did a good job of executing our offense."
Clemson ends its season with a 12-19 record, but didn't go down without
throwing another huge scare into the Heels, a team it knocked from its No. 1
perch back on Feb. 18 at Littlejohn Coliseum.
"I thought this was a good experience for us," Clemson coach Larry Shyatt
said. "Hopefully there are some very positive things for us to see in the
future. We flip-flopped back and forth there for a while...but North Carolina
was just too good and too smart for too long."
Trailing by just five points at the break, Clemson battled to a 54-54 tie
early in the second half. North Carolina regained the lead by hitting four
consecutive free throws — two each by Joseph Forte and Ronald Curry — which
came as a result of a foul and technical foul on Ray Henderson at 15:40.
The technical was Henderson's fifth personal foul, and seemed to serve as a
rallying point for UNC. Counting the free throws, the Tar Heels outscored
Clemson 18-6 over the next 5:09 to take a 72-60 lead and, it appeared,
control of the game.
But Clemson would make one final surge, using a quick 10-4 spurt capped by a
Solomon (23 points) 3 to pull within 76-70 with 9:01 to play.
But from that point it was all North Carolina.
The Tar Heels, finding holes in Clemson's ever-changing zone defense, found
easy baskets inside from Kris Lang and Brendan Haywood, and turned several
steals into easy layups to pull away for the 18-point victory.
Haywood and Lang finished with 17 and 16 points, respectively, while Joseph
Forte scored 15 despite hitting just 6-of-17 from the field.
"I thought we were in position with eight-and-a-half minutes to play in the
game," Shyatt said. "It's a six-point game (and) they were shooting well
which is probably not what we want...I thought they continued to shoot well
and overwhelmed us with some talent."
Try as it might, North Carolina couldn't shake Clemson in what proved to be a
wildly entertaining first half. In fact, had it not been for Capel's 3-point
shooting exhibition from the top of the key, the Tar Heels likely would have
been trailing at the break.
But Capel spoiled Clemson's zone defense by hitting all four of his 3-point
attempts — all from the top of the key — including a stretch of three
consecutive possessions that gave UNC a 39-37 lead with 3:38 remaining in the
Capel finished the day 8-of-9 from the field, including 6-of-6 from behind
the 3-point arc, breaking the ACC Tournament record for 3s in a game (five)
previously held by Doherty.
"Our shoot-around (Thursday) did a lot for us and we felt comfortable and
confident. This week we did a lot of shooting in the Smith Center just to get
our confidence coming into Atlanta. When guys shoot the ball with confidence,
good things are going to happen."
Solomon finished with 14 points in the half, hitting 4-of-7 3-point attempts,
helping the Tigers shoot an uncharacteristically high 52.9 percent (18-of-34)
from the field in the first 20 minutes.
Ed Scott scored 14 points for Clemson, while Tomas Nagys added 13 and Tony
NOTES: Solomon refused to say on whether this was his final game in a Clemson
uniform. Speculation has the junior guard considering leaving school early
for a shot at the NBA. "I'm a Tiger right now, so I really can't comment on
that question," Solomon said...Adam Allenspach wrapped up his Clemson career
with a four-point, two-rebound performance in 14 minutes. Allenspach didn't
play Thursday night because of continued problems with his back...The Tar
Heels hit 10-of-19 3-point attempts, while Clemson was 12-of-26...North
Carolina outrebounded the Tigers 35-31.
Dan Scott is the host of SportsTalk (10AM-Noon) on 104.9 FM in Upstate SC and
Managing Editor of Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger