UNC hands Tigers third home loss in a row

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Devin BookerDevin Booker
Sr. Forward
#31 6-8, 250
Whitmire, SC

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’s 22nd birthday celebration with a sold-out but subdued Littlejohn Coliseum crowd turned out to be bittersweet.

Booker scored a game-high 25 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough as North Carolina extended its winning streak to four games with a convincing 68-59 victory at Littlejohn Thursday night. The loss was Clemson’s sixth in its last seven games.

Clemson (13-14, 5-10 ACC) played without starting forward K.J. McDanielsK.J. McDaniels
So. Forward
#32 6-6, 200
Birmingham, AL

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, who was out with an ankle injury, and Booker said he desperately wanted a win over North Carolina on his birthday.

“I just knew how much we needed this win, and we didn’t get it,” Booker said. “So it isn’t a very good birthday. We had too many turnovers, and you can’t win like that.”

The Tar Heels (20-8 overall, 10-5 ACC) used the 3-pointer in the first half and Clemson had no answer for the Heels’ ball screens in the second half as North Carolina shot 26-of-55 from the field (47.3%) and had five players in double figures, led by Dexter Strickland’s 16 points.

On the flip side, North Carolina had no answer for Booker in the second half as he scored 21 of his points and almost single-handedly kept the Tigers within some semblance of a striking distance of the Heels. In the end, however, it wasn’t enough as Clemson dropped its fifth straight game to North Carolina in the series.

Clemson head coach Brad BrownellBrad Brownell
Head Coach
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credited North Carolina’s hot start in keeping the Tigers in a double-digit deficit for much of the game.

“First off, North Carolina played very well tonight,” Brownell said. “I think they played about as well as anyone has played coming into our building, maybe Purdue played better. They got off to a great start. They shot the ball very well and played with a lot of confidence. They played at an extremely high level and we got beat by a better basketball team, clearly, tonight.

“I did not think our overall intensity was terrific in the first half. I thought it was average. We were not grinding defensively like we needed to. We were content with trading baskets. That is not the way we’re going to win games. The drought in the first half was crucial and that’s when North Carolina pulled away.”

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams suggested Littlejohn was less than intimidating in hist postgame remarks, and said UNC's hot start may have contributed to a quiet crowd.

“The crowd never really got into the game,” Williams said. “I’ve been down here sometimes when it’s been really loud on the court and really hard for any communication between our players on the court and from the bench. The good start helped us keep the crowd out of it a little bit.”

Milton JenningsMilton Jennings
Sr. Forward
#24 6-9, 225
Summerville, SC

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was the only other Tiger in double figures as he chipped in 12 points and 10 rebounds, but Clemson committed 15 turnovers to North Carolina’s nine. Twelve of Clemson’s 15 turnovers occurred in the second half.

The first half saw the Tar Heels jump out to a quick 11-4 lead barely three minutes into the game, beginning a trend that would last all night as North Carolina rained in 3-pointers from all over the court. The Tigers would eventually chip away the lead, getting a turnaround by Booker and a drive by Demarcus Harrison that tied the score at 18-18 with 10:29 left on the clock.

The rest of the half was all Heels, however. Leslie McDonald nailed two open 3-pointers that began a 20-6 run over the final 10:29 of the half as the Heels raced out to a 38-24 lead at intermission. In all, North Carolina hit six 3-pointers in the half. North Carolina finished the half by hitting 6-of-15 3-pointers and 15-of-32 field goals overall.

In the second half, Booker scored 13 of Clemson’s first 19 points, but the Tigers could never break through the double-digit barrier as North Carolina used ball screens and quick passes to get open looks for mid-range jumpers. Clemson eventually trimmed the deficit to just 10 points at 50-40 as Harrison found Booker in the lane for a layup at the 13:41 mark.

North Carolina went on a 9-3 run over the next six minutes – Booker had all of Clemson’s points – and extended their lead to 59-43 with just over six minutes remaining in the game.

North Carolina eventually pushed the lead to 17 at 64-47 when P.J. Hairston hit a 3-pointer at the 5:11 mark, but the Tigers mustered the will to mount one more run. Jennings started the run with a 3-pointer at the 4:53 mark, and Booker then scored six straight points – the last two on a dunk after he rebounded a Jennings’ miss - to make it 66-59 with just one minute remaining.

The Tigers couldn’t find an open look from there on out and North Carolina was able to play keepaway in closing out the win.

Following the game, Jennings called out the guards and placed the loss on their shoulders.

“Our guards did not do a good job of handling the pressure,” Jennings said. “It was turnover after turnover, and you can’t do anything about that when the other team is going down and laying it in. That really hurt us.”

Clemson has a short turnaround, playing at Virginia Tech this Saturday at 8 p.m.

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