Tigers Topple Tarheels in Littlejohn Once Again

by - Correspondent -
Sharrod Ford scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half.

CLEMSON - It took a record-setting shooting performance to pull it off, but Clemson's four-game losing streak finally came to an end Saturday afternoon.

And what better victim, from a Tigers' perspective, than visiting North Carolina.

Clemson (9-10, 2-6 ACC) connected on 11-of-13 shots from 3-point territory Saturday en route to an 81-72 win over the No. 12 Tar Heels in front of a capacity crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum. The 84.6 shooting percentage from behind the arc is the best mark in school history.

It's also the highest percentage a North Carolina (13-5, 3-4) team has ever allowed.

"Basketball is a percentage game, and eventually we had to have a performance like this," said Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell.

"Of course it took a school record to do it," he added with a laugh. "But I suppose that eventually had to happen, too."

To put things in perspective, Purnell's team had made just 11 3-point shots total in its last three games.

But success getting the ball inside early in the game opened the shooting lanes. And later, when the Tar Heels went to an aggressive, halfcourt trap to try and rally in the second half, Clemson often beat the strategy by finding an open man for what proved to be, on this afternoon anyway, an easy shot from 20-feet away.

"We seem to be the remedy for everybody's shooting woes," said UNC head coach Roy Williams. "We're getting everybody's best shot right now, and somehow we've got to find a way to defend better."

Shawan Robinson was the chief thorn in Williams' side Saturday.

The Clemson sophomore continued his outstanding play since being inserted into the starting lineup three games ago. Robinson scored a team-high 24 points, 15 of which came courtesy of his sharp shooting from behind the arc (5-of-6).

Robinson is averaging 20 points per game in his three starts, and for the second straight outing established a new career high.

"I got a lot of open looks, and thankfully they went down and we got this win," he said. "A lot of the shots came from kicking it in to Chris Hobbs and Sharrod Ford (and them) passing it back out. That made it a lot easier."

It was the inside success early on which helped the Tigers build a 43-34 halftime lead.

Ford scored 11 of his 13 points in the half, while Akin Akingbala added five of his six points during the same time frame. Olu Babalola also contributed big in the first 20 minutes, scoring 12 of his 14 points before the break - some on strong drives to the basket and others from the perimeter, including one desperation 3-pointer on the run from the right wing as the shot clock expired.

But it was Clemson's perimeter shooting, combined with a strong defensive effort, which ultimately allowed the Tigers to play most of the second half with a lead hovering between seven and 11 points.

At its peak the margin was 14, 66-52, after a Robinson 3-pointer with 9:05 to go.

The Tar Heels tried to rally, completing a four-point swing after Ford was called for an intentional foul on Rashad McCants (26 points) with 8:10 left. McCants hit both free throws, then David Noel hit a layup on the ensuing possession to pull UNC within 66-57.

But instead of panicking, Clemson maintained its composure well enough to keep the Tar Heels at arms length. North Carolina never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.

"It was a huge win for us for a lot of reasons," Purnell said. "We have been close and closer, and needed a breakthrough win. We talked today about being a statement game because we're at the halfway point (of the ACC season).

"It's not how you start, but how you finish. I believe this can be a springboard for us playing better. We have a tough overall schedule, and if it doesn't break you it generally helps you toward the end."

Chey Christie finished with 11 points and Vernon Hamilton 10, giving Clemson five players in double figures.

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