CHAPEL HILL – No matter what happens for the rest of North Carolina’s up-and-down season, the Tar Heels still can say they’ve never lost to Clemson at home.
As for whether Sunday’s win amounts to anything more, coach Roy Williams said that depends on whether his team keeps showing the same kind of effort they used to extend the Tigers’ misery in Chapel Hill.
James Michael McAdoo scored 22 points in the Tar Heels’ 80-61 win, improving UNC 57-0 all-time against Clemson at home – an NCAA record for the longest home winning streak against one opponent.
The Tar Heels (12-7, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) played with more energy and aggressiveness than during their recent struggles, shooting 55 percent and leading by 31 points in the second half.
For Williams, it was another example of what can happen when his team plays with intensity and enthusiasm he has been trying to consistently draw out of them.
“I’m going to try to keep emphasizing it, screaming, stomping, whatever it takes,” Williams said. “But they’ve got to bring it. When they do that, we’ve got a chance to be a good team.”
The Tar Heels hadn’t played since Monday’s loss at Virginia, which dropped them to 1-4 in the conference for just the second time in program history. And with the Tigers owning a win against Duke this month that helped them to their best start in league play in 17 years, it certainly appeared Clemson (13-6, 4-3) had one of its better chances to end a streak that endured even through the Tar Heels’ 8-20 season in 2002.
And yet Sunday’s game turned out exactly like all the others.
The Tar Heels played aggressively, were quick to the floor for loose balls, shot the ball well against the Tigers’ physical defense and controlled the boards.
“We didn’t change anything with Xs and Os,” said Marcus Paige, who scored 13 of his 15 in the second half. “When you watch the game, we just played harder. We got 50-50 balls, we valued the basketball a little bit better and we just played hard. You’ve got to look at that and see it’s a positive feeling around the locker room right now. Why wouldn’t you want to do that every game instead of having a letup?”
McAdoo in particular led that effort, at one point finishing while being fouled then immediately giving a high-five to a courtside fan. He finished 9-for-13 from the field to go with seven rebounds.
Little went right for the Tigers, who shot 34 percent and flirted with their all-time worst shooting percentage under fourth-year coach Brad Brownell before hitting some shots late in the game.
Clemson has lost two straight blowouts, including Monday’s 76-43 loss at Pittsburgh, after a 4-1 ACC start was the program’s best since 1996-97. Things won’t get easier with the Tigers in a stretch of playing five of six on the road, including at second-ranked and unbeaten Syracuse.
“Our guys have got to dig their heels back in,” Brownell said. “We’ve got to fight a little harder, we’ve got to execute a little better, and we’ve got to get more loose balls, rebounds – just little things that happen at home for us where we use our crowd to help us. On the road we haven’t done that in either game this week.”
K.J. McDaniels scored 13 to lead Clemson, which at one point went nearly an entire half-worth of basketball – 18 minutes, 50 seconds – with one field goal. The Tigers missed 10 of 11 shots to close the first half, then missed their first seven shots after halftime to trail, 54-23, before Rod Hall connected on a corner 3-pointer at the 13:07 mark.
“Since the beginning of the game, we didn’t have our defensive edge,” Clemson’s Landry Nnoko said. “We beat teams by playing defense. If that doesn’t happen, there’s no way we can stay in the game.”