North Carolina’s Kenny Williams made two free throws with 17 seconds to play in overtime to seal the 14th-ranked Tar Heels’ 89-86 victory over Clemson on Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The Tigers, who had their nine-game winning streak snapped, had the ball stolen on their next possession and Williams made a layup on the other end with six seconds to play to put the game out of reach. It was also Clemson’s first loss at home this season.
“We played well enough offensively to win, but you have to be able to finish games off,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said afterwards. “You have to make better stops. We allowed them to get too comfortable in the second half and in the second half we did not guard well at all.”
North Carolina (13-3, 1-1 ACC) was in jeopardy of losing its second game to open the ACC season when Clemson’s Marcquise Reed made a three-pointer with 19.8 seconds to play in regulation and Avery Holmes got a steal on the other end and pushed the ball up the floor. But Joel Berry, who led all scorers with 31 points, fouled Holmes at mid-court with 5.5 seconds left, sending him to the foul line for a one-and-one.
However, the Clemson senior missed the front end and the Tar Heels rebounded. But Berry’s shot as time expired in regulation bounced off the glass to send the game into overtime.
In the extra frame, both teams went back-and-forth before Kennedy Meeks’ layup with 1:11 to play gave UNC the lead for good at 83-82. After a Clemson miss, Justin Jackson followed with a layup of his own and then Williams hit his two free throws to ice the game.
“Kennedy was big on the boards, 10 offensive rebounds, and the rebound margin was 51-32, and second chance points 23-3,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said. “We have more size than they do, and I think that was a big factor in the game.
“Both teams made plays. We had them down six or eight, and they came storming back and made some shots. Marcquise stepped into a big-time three-pointer. We were on the line for the one-and-one, in a three-point game and missed it, and he went down just as calm as you can and jumps up and knocked a three in. Then, they missed a free throw with five seconds to play. We go down and Joel gets a very tough shot, and it would have been fine for that one to go in, but his shooting was crucial. Kenny Williams made a big basket for us in overtime. Then he stepped up and made two big free throws before Kennedy made a big play on the out-of-bounds to throw it deep for us.”
Clemson (11-3, 1-1) still has not taken down the Tar Heels under Brownell, and has lost nine straight to UNC overall.
The Tigers were led by Blossomgame’s 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Holmes finished the night with 20 points, while Reed added 17 and Shelton Mitchell had 13 points and four assists.
At one point in the second half, Berry scored 19 of the Tar Heels’ 23 points as UNC built an eight-point lead with 5:15 to play in the game.
Berry made eight consecutive field goals at one point as well, including five three-pointers, as he gave UNC a 75-67 lead. But Holmes answered with a three of his own, followed by a driving bucket that cut into the Heels’ edge.
Clemson had a chance after Reed’s tying three, when Sidy Djitte knocked the ball loose from Berry. Holmes was fouled in transition, but unable to come up with the point the Tigers needed to move ahead. Berry then missed his layup as the final buzzer of regulation sounded.
Clemson took a 43-38 lead into the locker room as the Tigers shot 53 percent from the floor in the opening half.
The Tigers controlled the first half thanks to a 10-0 run that gave them a 16-11 lead at the time. Trialing by five points, Holmes hit a three-pointer, followed by a steal and dunk by Blossomgame, then a Holmes layup and a Reed jumper.
Clemson’s largest lead of the half was seven points, 43-36, with 47 seconds to go. Reed hit a three from the corner and Blossomgame had another dunk after a turnover to extend the lead to seven.
Reed hit a step-back three-point shot late in the half to put the Tigers up by five. Clemson held UNC in check somewhat offensively, but a 12-0 advantage in second chance points was critical to the Tar Heels’ opening half. The Heels ended the game 23-3 in second chance opportunities.
“Our guys are going to figure this out or we are going to continue to lose close games like this,” Brownell said. “We just can’t continue to give them ten more possessions. It is just not going to work.”
Blossomgame scored 14 of his 24 points in the first 20 minutes. It is the 14th time in 15 games Blossomgame has scored in double digits. Reed had nine first half points. Mitchell had eight.
Clemson will play at No. 21 Notre Dame on Saturday. The game will tip at 3 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.
–Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports