The final buzzer sounded on Sunday night and the Clemson Tigers 13-6 (4-3) walked away from Chapel Hill North Carolina with their 57th consecutive loss at North Carolina, after being blow out by the North Carolina Tar Heels 12-7 (2-4) by a final score of 80-61.
Much has been made about how this was Clemson's year to end the streak. This is not the same dominant North Carolina team that has ruled the ACC and NCAA for decades as North Carolina has stumbled out of the gates in ACC play losing 4 of their first 5 games. Before the game, Coach Roy Williams didn't make any excuses for the slow start of his team. "We're 1-4 because we haven't played very well" stated Williams, and when asked on the areas that his team needs to improve on, he replied quickly with "everything".
The starting lineups were announced and it looks like Clemson is back to playing roulette with their starting five with Damarcus Harrison getting the start over Jordan Roper, and Josh Smith made his second career start over Jaron Blossomgame in an attempt to inject more size into the Clemson lineup. The new newcomers started alongside Rod Hall, K.J. McDaniels and Landry Nnoko.
As usual, when the ball tipped off, the Tar Heels were focused on McDaniels. After North Carolina quickly went inside twice to score two easy baskets and go up 4-0, McDaniels answered my driving to the baseline with an emphatic dunk to make sure his presence was felt. McDaniels would score 6 of the first 7 points for the Tigers, seemingly taking on UNC 1-on-5. This would remain a theme for the rest of the night.
North Carolina kept pace with McDaniels as it seemed like early on in the first half, they weren't missing any mid range jumpers. Marcus Paige and James McAdoo hit back-to-back jump shots in the middle of McDaniel's one man show to keep North Carolina ahead.
After a Jaron Blossomgame put back cut the UNC lead to 14-11 with 11:58 to go, things started to get ugly. North Carolina spouted off a quick 10-1 run (which could have been much worse if the Tar Heels could have converted on their free throws). McDaniels stopped the bleeding with a jumper with 6:28 to play to get the Tigers within 8 points with a score of 24-16.
After grabbing the first six rebounds of the game, 3 of them offensive, Clemson began getting gashed on the boards. It started after the first round of substitutions where both Nnoko and Smith were taken out leaving Sidy Djitte as the only big on the floor for the Tigers. Djitte was drawn away from the basket on his defensive assignment, and North Carolina began to pummel the offensive boards.
After that, things went from bad to worse. Clemson went the remaining 6:28 of the half without scoring a field goal. Meanwhile, on the other end of the court, James McAdoo and Kennedy Meeks were just having field days scoring wide open layups on nearly every possession. The buzzer sounded, and Clemson found themselves trailing 37-21.
The second half was just a flat out carry over from the first half. Clemson's offense came out in the same funk, not scoring for nearly another 7 minutes until the streak was broken by a Rod hall three pointer with 13:09 remaining in the game. At this point, the game had just become ugly with North Carolina leading 54-26, and Clemson struggling just to make the game respectable.
Landry Nnoko, who was beaten badly on the defensive side of the ball all night, scored 8 consecutive points for the Tigers from the 10 minute mark to the 8 minute mark to keep the lead from ballooning over 30 points, but at this point, it was just running the motions as the final 8 minutes played out and North Carolina walked away with an 80-61 victory in a score that did not describe the lopsidedness of this game.
K.J. McDaniels once again lead the Tigers in scoring with 13 points on 4-12 shooting and once again was a one man show. In fact, at the half he accounted for more than half of the Tiger points, scoring 11 of the 21. Landry Nnoko finished with 12 mainly due to his 8 straight points in garbage time. Adonis Filer also added 12 and Rod Hall finished with 6 shooting only 2-8. Hall's offense has dropped off during ACC play, which isn't entirely his fault, something we will discuss shortly.
Clemson shot just 18-53 from the field tonight (34.0%) as they continue to not be able to put the ball on the basket. Once again, they were outrebounded 37-31 and had more turnovers (10) than assists (7). While the numbers do jump out at you, the one thing that I took away from this game was the fact that Clemson was downright outhustled. During a timeout in the first half, Coach Brownell mentioned to his Tigers that they were 0-for-6 in winning 50-50 balls. The mention didn't seem to matter much, as Carolina went on to out hustle Clemson for the remainder of the night.
James Michael McAdoo led the way for the Tar Heels, scoring 22 on 9-13 shooting. Marcus Paige dropped 15 of his own, and Kennedy Meeks and Leslie McDonald rounded out the double figure scorers for Carolina scoring 11 and 12 respectably. UNC shot 31-56 (55.4%) from the field, and 8-18 (44.4%) from three point range.
Earlier this year, I talked about how the Tigers had to "adapt to survive" with their current group of players. Let's take a look at the current problems that the Tigers are having and see where they need to be fixed.
Rod Hall and Adonis Filer can no longer succeed in this offense and it has nothing at all to do with their play. The offense has just been figured out. In the Tiger motion offense, the big man will come up and set a high ball screen to try to free Hall or Filer for lane penetration. The problem is, in order for this to work, the big man has to flash to the basket and occasionally be fed an entry pass off the screen. This strategy falters because our big men don't have the offensive ability to collect the ball 15 feet from the basket and drive for the bucket. Defenses have figured this out and as you can see, on the high ball screen instead of one of the defenders retreating to the screener leaving penetration opportunity for the point guards, both players stay high and force Hall or Filer to pass the ball off. Until Clemson develops a big man who can take the pass off the screen and roll, this offense simply cannot be run effectively by the Tigers.
The play of shooting guards Damarcus Harrison and Jordan Roper tonight was just downright awful. I didn't understand Brad Brownell's decision to start Harrison tonight one bit, and I was extremely frustrated with it. Harrison has regressed offensively dramatically during the season and has all but disappeared in ACC play. Not only did Harrison start tonight, but he played for 21 minutes. His defense was not much better as I counted four times tonight that he was stood up on a screen and didn't fight through it. On all four possessions, the man he was covering was left open for a jumper that was hit every time. Jordan Roper is battling an arm injury and just couldn't find his stroke. You could tell something was wrong as the usually fearless shooter seemed a bit gun shy tonight. I'll be interested to see if his downplayed injury is the reason as to why Harrison got the start tonight.
Jaron Blossomgame is just out of position, and I give the young man a lot of credit. He came onto a small roster and was asked to play the power forward position, and the kid just isn't a power forward. Against the smaller teams in non-conference play, he held his own grabbing valuable rebounds and playing solid defense. However, in ACC play, he just can't hang with the big men down low.
I'm going to say something right now that I didn't think that I would say 19 games into the season. The Clemson defense has been figured out, and is in big trouble. Pittsburgh opened the book on how to beat this stingy man-to-man defense, and it is obvious that the Tar Heels watched the tape. The problem comes from the big men down low. Put them 1-on-1 with the defenders down low and they don't have too much of a problem. But opponents have realized that right now, Landry Nnoko, Josh Smith and Sidy Djitte are all ball watching. As a result, one quick pass and a back door cut by a big man on the weak side lead to a wide open baskets. You saw Clemson switch to a zone defense for large portion of the second half, and they have the same problem. The zone is run WAY to far off the baseline, and the back line is just ball watching. As a result, baseline runners are running free with no communication where one quick pass can break the zone for another easy layup. As a result, you are seeing opposing big men just have field days against the Tigers recently. Talib Zanna scored 22 on 9-of-10 shooting against Pittsburgh, and tonight, James McAdoo added 22 of his own on 9-of-13 shooting.
Clemson will have to correct its big man woes quickly as they travel to Florida State on February 1st for a rematch with the Seminoles at 3:00pm. Stay tuned to Shakin the Southland for more Clemson Basketball coverage.