Tigers Bank On Recent Home Success vs. UNC

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - Sometimes there are mysteries of the universe which are beyond human comprehension. College basketball doesn't quite fall into that category, but occasionally things do occur which causes one to shake his or her head.

For instance:

Clemson has never won a game vs. North Carolina in Chapel Hill. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. The current total is 0-for-50.

The home record against the Tar Heels is nothing to write home about, either. Just 15-32 combined at both Fike Fieldhouse and Littlejohn Coliseum.

Yet recent history suggests that when No. 6 North Carolina (14-2, 3-1 ACC) visits the Tigers Wednesday (9 p.m., Jefferson-Pilot), Clemson has more than just fleeting hopes of a victory. The Tigers have won two of the last three games played between the teams, and four of the last six in Littlejohn.

Three times since 1999 Clemson has defeated a UNC team ranked in the Top 20, including the now-famous win over the No. 1 Tar Heels on Feb. 18, 2001.

A year ago, in Oliver Purnell's first season as the Tigers' head coach, his team stunned North Carolina 81-72 behind a school-record 11-of-13 shooting from the 3-point line.

Not that any of this guarantees success Wednesday night.

Clemson is coming off a difficult two-point loss at Virginia Tech, while the Tar Heels were smacked around by third-ranked Wake Forest last time out. An angry UNC team - one finally buying into the defensive philosophy of second-year coach Roy Williams - would seem to be a dangerous prospect for Purnell's young, inconsistent squad.

"I think what we have is an important game for both teams, because both teams are coming off difficult losses on Saturday," Purnell said. "Obviously that kind of thing is going to happen in this league an awful lot, losing games that you should have won or maybe wanted to win very badly.

"But yet you don't have the luxury to dwell on it because you've got an important game coming up."

Loss to Wake Forest aside, the Tar Heels have been one of the great stories of this college basketball season.

After virtually running off one coach (Matt Dougherty) and adjusting to the demands of another (Williams) in each of the last two seasons, North Carolina has looked like a legitimate national title contender for most of this year. With a new commitment to defense and perhaps the fastest pace on offense in the country, UNC was steamrolling opponents before stumbling last weekend on the Demon Deacons' home floor.

The catalyst has been junior point guard Raymond Felton, who has added much-improved perimeter shooting to his already impressive game. At 11 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, Felton has the ball in his hands at the most important time and knows exactly what to do with it.

Rashad McCants, an enigma-turned-happy camper this season, shares leading scorer honors with Jawad Williams (16.6). Starting center Sean May (15 points, 9 rebounds) presents matchup problems for a number of teams, Clemson included.

"This rendition of the North Carolina team is much deeper than last ear, very very deep," Purnell said. "You don't even talk about Jawad Williams and he's their leading scorer. The other Williams, the freshman comes in. He's going to be a terrific player, he's already a very solid player and you can go on and on to about eight or nine players."

Of course some current Tigers have had their share of success vs. North Carolina, as well.

Senior center Sharrod Ford has a .719 shooting percentage (23-of-32) in his career against the Tar Heels. Junior guard Shawan Robinson was 5-of-6 from behind the 3-point arc vs. UNC in last year's home victory. For his career, Robinson is 10-of-20 from long range against the Tar Heels.

And therein lies one major key for success, Purnell said.

"I think our ability on offense to screen them and execute is going to be important. Obviously trapping, the scramble, trap is a big part of what they do in their system," he said. "We hurt them last year with that and I anticipate seeing a lot of that, but they are a very good man-to-man team; so if you don't screen them it's hard to reverse the ball. So we have to screen them and execute on the offensive end of the floor.

"They've got to make a decision on whether they want to double down on Sharrod or not because of the way we, particularly Shawan, shot the ball last year. I anticipate they may go
straighter man-to-man."

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