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Tar Heels Do It Again, Beat Clemson Late

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Words can’t describe how frustrated I felt after blowing that game.  I generally don’t like the saying "they have our number" because in college, players change from year to year.  But in this instance there is no other way to describe it.  UNC just has our number. 

Most of the time I write up the recaps for the games directly after the game ends.  Sometimes I even write portions of it throughout the game.  Today I decided to wait a couple of hours to let my head clear so that my thoughts would not be driven by emotion.  

Anyone that watched the game saw that it was a game that Clemson could’ve and should’ve won.  We led throughout the game and played fantastic.  UNC played very well and we were still able to hold a commanding lead for most of the afternoon.  When UNC made a run to take a 1 point lead in the 2nd half, we answered their run with a run of our own to regain the lead by 8.  It was an impressive response considering all the momentum had shifted UNC’s way.  It’s just too bad there are 40 minutes in a game and not 37.  Because for 37 minutes we played like a cohesive, determined basketball team.  The last 3 minutes, not so much.

Clinging to a 73-66 lead with under 3 minutes left, Clemson stopped executing and mental breakdowns took over. Here’s how it played out:

  • Jerai Grant sets an illegal screen, which was very obvious and not necessary, as Stitt had already beat his man off the dribble.
  • Next offensive possession, Stitt throws a bad pass to Tanner Smith along the sideline that results in a turnover.  An unforced turnover costs us a possession at the most critical point of the game. 
  • Our defense doesn’t realize that Kendall Marshall can only go left.  We played him soft and let him drive left where he was able to throw it up on the glass to be corralled by Henson for the lay-in.
  • Tanner Smith, who knocked down big 3’s all day long, misses a wide open 3 from the wing.
  • We lost track of Harrison Barnes, who is extremely clutch and has been hot all day, and he punishes us by knocking down a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 2.
  • Another Clemson possession results in turnover with 47 seconds to go, giving UNC the ball down by 2 with an opportunity to tie the game.
  • Zeller hits a jump hook to tie it up.  The defense wasn’t bad.  It was just a good shot by Zeller.
  • Clemson inbounds the ball with 30 seconds left and can hold for the last shot.  This decision will probably be discussed ad nauseum, but Brownell decides not to call a timeout.  Based on the events of the last 2 minutes Clemson is frazzled and out of sync.  A timeout here would’ve given Brownell the opportunity to calm his team down and draw up a play.  Instead, he let his team play it out.  Demontez Stitt wound the clock down and was forced to take an off-balance shot as the clock expired.  The ball fell hopelessly short and the game went to overtime.

Going into overtime I didn’t have much hope.  We had blown our opportunity.  I knew it.  You knew it.  The players surely knew it.  We fell behind quickly and UNC eventually extended their lead to 9 points with 1 minute to go.  To our players’ defense, they didn’t give up.  They kept fighting and cut the lead to 3, nearly stealing an inbound pass that would’ve given them the chance to tie the game.  It wasn’t meant to be and UNC held on to win 92-87.

If anyone on the selection committee watched that game it had to be obvious that Clemson is playing at a level that is worthy of a bid.  Harrison Barnes played the game of his life, breaking the ACC Tournament scoring record for a freshman with 40 points.  Zeller and Henson both shot 50% or better from the field and scored in double figures. Kendall Marshall finished with 9 assists. Despite all this, the #7 team in the country needed a furious rally in the last 2 minutes to send the game to overtime.  It will be interesting to see what happens at 6:00PM tomorrow night.