By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
After watching North Carolina go up and down the court through the first 27 minutes Thursday night, Clemson finally started to slow the Tar Heels down.
Trailing by 14 at the break, the Tigers cut the lead to 10 points and got the basketball back with a chance to cut into the lead even more. But that never happened. Though UNC was stuck offensively for the first and only time in the game, Clemson could never take advantage of it as it missed three open shots in a row and then a fourth possession ended up as turnover.
By the time the Tigers finally did get over the hump and cut was at one point a 16-point North Carolina lead to seven points, the game was all but decided as the Tar Heels walked out of Littlejohn Coliseum with a 68-59 victory.
“We were down by 10 and Jordan Roper had a wide open three that could have cut it to seven and it would have been a different game, but he just missed it. It was just misses,” senior Milton Jennings said. “It’s a game of swings and whatnot. If you hit a few shots, it would have been a different story.”
Instead it was the story Clemson (13-14, 5-10 ACC) has been writing all year. The Tigers play good for stretches and then all of sudden they go cold offensively, missing shots why having unforced turnovers to boot.
After pulling within 10 points, 50-40, on a Devin Booker layup with 13:52 to play, the Tigers went four minutes and twenty five seconds without a point and five minutes and seventeen seconds without a field goal. What makes it even sadder; UNC only scored one more point and had just one field goal itself during that span.
“It was terrible,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “Adonis (Filer) one time went and broke a play off. He said he had it. It is just different for these guys, especially the two freshmen. The two freshmen still think they can just go make a play.
“You might do that once, but you are not doing that consistently in a half-court grind to just break things off and go try something. Then we just had some careless turnovers from really all of our perimeter players. We just did not execute. We played hard in the second half, but we did not execute at all or as well as you need to.”
In the first half Clemson executed better, but its defense wasn’t where it needed to be.
North Carolina (20-9, 10-5 ACC) shot 46.9 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, including 6 of 15 from behind the arc as it took a 38-24 lead into the locker room. In the first half, four different players drained three-pointers for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina used a 20-6 run to close out the second half after the Tigers tied it at 18-18 with 10:36 to play in the opening half on a Damarcus Harrison layup.
“Against a good team like North Carolina, you are not going to win that,” Brownell said.
Booker rallied the Tigers in the second half, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points in the last 20 minutes. Celebrating his 22nd birthday, the senior also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
“I look at it as we needed this win and we did not get it. It’s not a very good birthday,” Booker said.
Jennings felt the same way for his fellow senior. They were the only two to score in double digits as he added 12 points, had five assists and added 10 rebounds.
“Book and I played really hard, and I’m upset that (the younger players) did not have that sense of urgency in such a big game. It just wasn’t there. It wasn’t there,” Jennings said. “I’m not supposed to being saying this as being sour, but it was ugly basketball.
“It was probably our worst game in the second half all year just from a standpoint of playing with so much energy, but being careless on offense when it is supposed to be fun.”
Clemson has now lost six of its last seven games and has not scored more than 59 points since Feb. 2. The Tigers will travel to Blacksburg, VA on Saturday to play Virginia Tech.