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Clemson Tigers Give UNC Tar Heels a Scare, but Fall Short in OT

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The Tigers have not beaten the Tar Heels in basketball since January of 2010, and with Tuesday night’s 89-86 OT loss, they’ve now lost 19 of 20 contests.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since the home opener against UGA, Littlejohn was rocking as the Hardwood Tigers hosted the #14 UNC Tar Heels.

Throughout the first half, the Clemson and UNC offenses traded blows. While Brownell is accustomed to using his defense to win big games, it was the offense that answered an elite UNC offensive assault. The Heels grabbed 50% of their available offensive rebounds, giving them second chance after second chance.

Despite that, the Tigers entered halftime was a 43-38 lead thanks to the three-ball. Clemson took 53% of their field goals from beyond the three-point arc and made 38% of them.

UNC came out attacking in the second half, but again the Tigers were able to rely on their offense to weather the storm. At this point in the game, it was Jaron Blossomgame making big plays. He was using excellent post moves to score in the set offense. He would finish with 24-points.

At the 16-minute mark, UNC switched to a zone defense. Clemson struggled in a few possessions against it, but was bailed out by a media timeout. After adjusting, the Tigers continued trading blows and now trading leads with the Tar Heels. Things took a turn for the worse when UNC guard, Joel Berry, got hot. In just three minutes (9:38 to 6:39 in the second half), Joel Berry went 5-5 with four pointers, capping off the run with a ~30 foot rainbow. It flipped a four point Clemson advantage to a six point UNC advantage. After a Kennedy Meeks lay-up, the Heels would grab their biggest lead of the contest up eight.

Brownell put Donte Grantham and then Marcquise Reed on him for the next few minutes and the momentum flipped. Avry Holmes brought the Tigers back with a 5-0 lead of his own. Holmes would finish with 20 points.

As the game clock dwindled, the Tigers trailed by three. The Tigers came up with three huge stops of the defensive end, but each time the offense, which had been so good all day, wasted the opportunity.

First was a rushed missed three from Shelton Mitchell. Then, an atrocious drive by Blossomgame in which he got stuck under the basket and threw the ball away. Following those quick possessions, Reed attacked the basket, but made an errant pass when his lane closed.

Still trailing by three, the Tigers got yet another defensive stop and then Marcquise Reed played hero as he pulled up for a transition three-pointer to tie the game! After a fantastic defensive stand, Avry Holmes was fouled while trying to get the team in transition. With the Tigers in the bonus, he went to the line for a one-and-one to put Clemson ahead with 0:05 remaining. He missed the front-end of the one-and-one, his only FT attempt on the game, to keep the game tied.

A UNC timeout with 04.4 remaining gave them the final possession of regulation. Joel Berry was able to run all the way down the court, but missed a lay-up as time expired, sending the game into OT.

After going scoreless from the 13:14 mark to the end of regulation, Blossomgame started OT with a hook shot and the Tigers had the lead. The teams traded leads until the game was tied within the the final two minutes of overtime.

Blossomgame grabbed a rebound and got fouled giving him a chance to put the Tigers head by two. He made one of two to give the Tigers a 82-81 lead. On the other end of the floor, Blossomgame got beat off the dribble forcing Djitte to leave Meeks open for a lay-up, which he would make after a good pass. UNC now had a one-point lead.

Blossomgame got another look on offense, but didn’t see an open Djitte across the post and instead took his own shot, which clanked out. Djitte tried to clean up his miss, but was unable.

UNC countered with a score, putting them up three. Then Reed did a great job getting to the FT line, but also missed one of two free throws, allowing UNC to maintain a two-point lead. UNC then scored again to push their lead to two possesions and ice the game.

Interestingly, after the game, Brad Brownell could be seen visibly angry with Coach Roy Williams during the post-game hand shake. Williams appears to be apologizing. It’s unclear what it was about.

(UPDATE: Apparently, UNC players were jawing at the Clemson bench at the conclusion of the game. Brownell letting Roy know about it.)

Missing clutch free-throws and getting whipped on the offensive glass can be blamed for this Clemson loss. Addtionally, Blossomgame again did not shoot well from three, going 1-5. He is now shooting .158 from three on the season. This is a legitimate concern moving into the heart of ACC play. We’ll see if and when he gets hot. Although this was yet another huge missed opportunity versus UNC, it showed Clemson is ready to compete with the best competition.

Please visit Shakin’ the Southland this week as we will have coverage of our upcoming basketball game against Notre Dame (Saturday), and of course mountains of articles about the upcoming College Football National Championship.